I have an up-and-down sorta relationship with the Scissors Sisters. Less because I like some stuff of them and then some other not so much, rather me forgetting about them, rediscovering them, thinking “they are the greatest band evah” and then forgetting again. So recently I re-stumbled upon the gloriousness that is “Invisible Light” from their album “Night Work”. And I really love love love the video which made me actually like the song. Wanna know why? Sure you do!
Yeah, this is the clean version – go and watch the dirty one.
#1 So conflicted
I am really conflicted about the question if I find the video sexist and classist or actually subverting sexist and classist constructions. Ultimately, if that even makes sense, I think it is kind of both? And that is why I love it? Cause, ambiguity, y’all? The author is dead, it’s all in your head. It certainly is a music video that is open for your reading.
I just like the fact that the video can be both this grand narrative and at the same time not. All the bits and pieces can (and are probably supposed to) make the story, but at the same time it can also only be a disjointed mindfuck and be enjoyed as such. Wikipedia teaches me that the video draws inspiration from the nightmares of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” (great movie!) and of Catherine Deneuve in “Belle De Jour” (never seen it, sorriez!).
And there are three small scenes that I love in particular:
#3 Cleopatra, coming atcha
The scene with the Egyptian goddess (the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra, thanks Wikipedia) taking the gold nugget out of the girl’s hand and “screaming” a beam of light in her face at the 2:32 mark. Love. That. Scene.
#4 Grab dat ass
The scene at the 2:02 mark where our protagonist woman stands there watching the handyman chop the wood and then she grabs her own ass in those skin-tight white equestrian pants. Not that I have ever done it, but “girl, I know what you are trying to say here”.
#5 To the grave
Love the short glimpse on our protagonist lady carrying the coffin along a stretch of beautiful greenery at the 1:44 mark. In equal parts because the nature is beautiful, it’s very Jesus-y in its way and because it is sort of fucked up.
I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty excited for the Hunger Games movie. Oh, I know, I’m a little late with a review, but then again, whatever. Admittedly, I haven’t read the books, and I am still not sure if I actually want to. I thought it was a pretty decent movie. WHAAAAT? Y’all are screaming now, cause how can I think it was only decent? Well, let me explain.
I have exactly three problems with the movie. Two minor ones and one major big-ass problem.
The first minor one concerns the characterization of the people living in the capitol. For my taste it steers a little to far into the territory of glorifying simplicity (apparently equaling plain fashion and little make-up) as a sign of moral superiority. I get it, the people in the capitol are supposed to be over the top and their running after the latest fashion fad is supposed to underline how they have lost sight for what is really important. But then again, we are watching the movie in our days, and that sort of statement seems to imply that people who are interested in fashion and whose style is unconventional by most standards are – what? Stupid, selfish, ignorant? I am sorry, but wearing a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt does not signify that you are a better person. Nor does wearing Haute Couture by Alexander McQueen and shaving your head signify that you have no respect for the life and fate of others. It’s a twisted and complicated message, which is not helped AT ALL that the men are portrayed as more effeminate than their counterparts in the outer districts. It all reeks of a pretty conservative worldview. Work hard, dress plain and adhere to gender-conventions – then you’ll be the perfect human being. Ermh, whud?
The second minor problem is the love-story bullshit. Now, having not read the book I only heard that in the novel she fakes the affection for Peeta in order to gain the viewers’ sympathy and thus medicine and gets confused over her own actions. In the movie that does not come across. Neither does the supposed relationship with her buddy Gale. I am mostly ok with the portrayal of the relationships here, and I think the complexity of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta is delivered rather well, but I cringe at the love-triangle crap that awaits us in future instalments of the series. Cause they are just too predictable. Now throw me a twist and I’m in, but seeing her be like “oh, Peeta?” or “oh, Gale?” is boring before it even happens.
The major problem is on a whole different level. It’s the movies supposed message of how perverted the Hunger Games as an event are, how the viewers are jaded and emotionally blind, because they accept and celebrate the violence and don’t bother for a second to question the games and their problematic morale. While that is what the movie is trying to get across –it makes the same mistake. There are deaths we are supposed to feel sad about and those characters get a sympathetic characterization. But then, when Katniss has to actually kill someone, it is always the ones who have been portrayed as assholes. The movie, via its characterizations, tries to justify why she kills the ones she kills instead of daring to ask the question why it should be ok for her to do it – when it is not for the others and it is actually not ok at all. Her killings are portrayed as a necessity, as self-defense, as acts of selflessness, but with the right backstory and editing that would have worked for every tribute, but just like in the reality TV formats of our time, it doesn’t happen, because the story and the way it is told, relies on the editing to create pro- and antagonists to make us care for some and hate others.
And that is weak, because it diminishes the message the movie is trying to get across. If a movie tries to tell you how this whole reality-TV stuff is horrible and how it creates viewers that are emotional monsters and then employs just the very same techniques without questioning them – then that is just bigoted. It acts like it wants to stand in for something but does exactly the opposite, act the way it allegedly wants to criticize. And that leaves a horribly bitter taste in my mouth, because if they had avoided that route in the making of this movie it would actually have a really powerful message and would be a great feature film instead of a merely decent one which is nice to watch but extremely problematic in what it is trying to say.
All of this, plus the love-triangle-crapfest awaiting us, make me wait for the sequels with a little fear in my innocent little heart.
Yeah, yeah, apologies for not updating etc. BUT! We have to talk about how Tim Burton just keeps disappointing us (meaning me) constantly (meaning every now and then) and how we cannot deal with it (meaning, you know…). Of course I am talking about Dark Shadows and of course I am going to rip it a new one.
My disdain for Dark Shadow stems from the fact that the trailer actually looked very promising and like the movie would be a lot of fun. Granted, that’s what trailers are supposed to do, but in the case of Tim Burton we have to consider the history of his filmmaking. Which basically means that there are some beautiful gems and masterpieces alongside some horrible failures. One of the biggest failures is also his second most recent film – Alice in Wonderland. Which was a disappointment, because you know, Alice in Wonderland, the story where he could go all out visually and story-telling wise and he sort of didn’t. So, my hopes were high, that his new feature Dark Shadows would bring back Burton the Masterpiece Maker a la Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollows etc. But, my oh my, he didn’t and it was painful to watch. Actually, for a lot of the same reasons that Alice didn’t work for me.
The reason I expect so much from a Burton movie is mostly my undying love for Batman Returns where the superhero-movie genre gets an infusion of Burton visuals, which are at the least creative in an out of the box sort of way plus a rock-solid characterization of the main protagonists and antagonists. I believe in what they say and do, even though it might seem ridiculous, because their motivation seems real and grounded in their experiences and feelings. Over the top characters like Catwoman and Penguin work, because their backstories, their characters and ultimately their motivations make them believable within the surroundings of the story.
Sad to say, but all of this does not take place in Dark Shadows. Characterization does not happen, or rather only to the extent that someone says: “Look, he is a strange boy” and we are supposed to base our judgement of the boy and other chraracters reacting to him on that statement. Instead of, you know, seeing him behave strange. My biggest problem with the movie is how it wastes it characters. There are so many of them, but none of them get enough time, nor enough backbone to their story to make them round characters with believable motivations.
It’s not that these are boring characters – I mean, who is Elizabeth and how come she is such a determined woman? Why is her daughter a werewolf and whats the relationship with her mother? Why is her brother Roger such a douchebag and steals from people? How is it, that he neglects his son? Why is Dr. Hoffman drinking like a maniac and behaving the way she does? All of this questions are actually interesting and some answers and insights would not only deepen our understanding of the characters, but make us actually care for them.
That is the major problem with the main protagonists Barnabas and Victoria and the antagonist Angelique. We know basically nothing about them as human beings. Ok, Angie is in love with Barnabas and a witch. And ok, Barnabas is in love with Josette and then Victoria and thinks family comes always first. That’s nothing. Like, there is not even a reason given for these character traits. Why does Angelique love him so much? Why does he think family comes first? Cause his father told him so? Weak. Why not give a few examples of how the family held together and formed strong ties? The weakest link in this non-explanation territory of the movie is Barnabas’ love for Josette. Why the hell does he love her? We don’t even know her. She gets about one minute screentime and we’re supposed to buy that this is the greatest romance of them all and care about her as a character? Sorry, but bullshit. The entire movie is based upon how Angelique is in love with Barnabas and how he denies her. There is your big love story, there is what is driving the plot. The character of Angelique and her motivation are so much more interesting and even though they are explored far too little, they are infinitely more believable than all that talk of the great love for Josette.
Which ties in with the sub-plot of Barnabas falling in love with Victoria. He falls in love with her because she looks like Josette? And that is why we’re supposed to care even though him and Angelique have a real history of relationship and drama going? And ultimately it is supposed to be a happy ending, that Victoria isn’t even really Victoria but just a reincarnation of Josette? This infuriates me, cause yet again, a potentially interesting character is completely wasted for the sake of a really lame plot twist that had better been avoided. The fuck, the movie only takes seconds to explore how Victoria talked to the ghost of Josette and got abused in a mental institution. Which is a wicked story in itself and it would have been fantastic to see how she deals with it and overcame all that. But in the end, it doesn’t even matter, because her tragic life is annihilated by the fact that she just stands up and IS Josette from that moment on. All the experiences we should and could have cared about are thrown overboard. None of it actually mattered and the person we were introduced to in the movie doesn’t actually exist anymore. Because the movie, just like the doctors in the mental institution, didn’t care about her as a human being. And that is really infuriating on a variety of levels.
Granted, the movie looks cool. I like the overall Seventies style, Barnabas and Dr. Hoffman just look great as characters. And Michelle Pfeiffer gets to showcase how hot she still is and is allowed to have the camera linger on her face, her precious blond curls and those impeccable outfits. Now, I love Michelle Pfeiffer, but Burton should just take her and make that Catwoman movie he always wanted to make with her. And he better not ruin that fantasy for me. And before I go, one more complaint: Why have Helena Bonham Carter in your movies in such potentially interesting roles as a crazy character and then make absolutely no use of it? Every time she looks great and could go all crazy on everyone’s asses, but then she never gets to realize the potential. Tragic waste.
All in all: Super-Blargh. That one could have been so much better and turned out to focus on all the boring nonsense instead of what it had going for itself. Yea: I expected more!
How about you?
Three days into April it is time for me to draw up a little résumé with regards to Miyazaki March and what we have learned while passing through it. You can find all related posts HERE in the directory, to revisit the reviews I did on the Studio Ghibli animation features (mostly) directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
For my ambitious project to review my way through all Miyazaki directed movies for Studio Ghibli (plus Arietty) with some general musings on top I actually re-watched all of them, except for Tales from Earthsea by Gorō Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, and except for Arietty, which I saw for the first time and only once.
It’s not exactly a surprise, but a pleasant realization, that all of these movies are really good movies and not one of them lets me down. Compared to other animation movies and movies in general they are all well made, well written and most of the time even refreshing in their outlook and presentation of things, characters and relationships. For family-friendly entertainment for mass-audiences I normally wouldn’t expect the level of complexity encountered in these movies, but they fail to disappoint.
Two movies in particular surprised me:
I remember liking Porco Rosso more than I had thought I would the first time watching it, but I was really surprised as to how much the movie resonates with me and how incredibly well it holds up against all the other Miyazaki movies. I thus consider it to be part of my Top 3 favorite movies by Miyazaki – which really is made up of four movies.
That brings us to the other surprise: Howl’s Moving Castle. I have been conflicted about this one ever since I saw it, because on the one hand I think it has the potential to be the best of them all, yet, the ending and unfolding events there ruin it for me. If there were an ending more to my liking I am pretty sure that Spirited Away would have trouble remaining in the no. 1 spot of my list. But that is also the surprise, that the rest of Howl’s Moving Castle engages me that much, that despite the grave flaws, I consider it to be such an amazing movie. For me, in many ways, it feels like the quintessential Miyazaki movie (with some deliberate hinting at that within the movie itself) with all elements coming together perfectly, just like in Spirited Away, …xept for the ending, mind you.
Reviewing all these movies was tough, because they were quite a lot and I wanted to write something meaningful (although I am fully aware of my regular drooling and ranting). It was time consuming, so my work with Miyazaki March actually started in early February, and it still felt like too little time. Well, it was actually, because I wanted to take a closer look at all other non-Miyazaki Studio Ghibli features which got replaced by reposting an adjusted version of my Tales from Earthsea review and I totally missed out on discussing the role of cats in Miyazaki movies. That would have been fun, but I had to cut it to get to my review of Spirited Away. Sorriez (and meow) for that.
Still, doing Miyazaki March felt really good and I got a lot of positive response and feedback. Viewers for my little corner of the internet increased significantly and I want to thank everyone who read the posts and all of you guys who liked and commented, I appreciate it very much!
I hope to do another theme-month later this year, September or October-ish, but let us wait and see. If all goes well, there will be two regular series for the blog coming your way, a comic re-read of Elfquest and a series re-watch of the X-files.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves!
Yeah, yeah, we all know it: This 2001 released feature won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale Film Fest and later snatched an Oscar for best animated movie. It cemented Studio Ghibli’s reputation as The Animation Studio of Japan and of Hayao Miyazaki as The Animation Director. It became the highest grossing film in Japan ever and made a shitload of money internationally, while critics loved it and continue to love. The hell, I love it.
There is nothing about Spirited Away that bugs me. Everything about it feels right and in place and if I were to tell you about parts that I am critical about I would have to crack my brain, cause from the top of my head, I cannot think of One. Fucking. Thing. And seriously, how amazing is that? What a treasure of a movie must it be for me to not find anything in it that I have a problem with?
The gods who come to be guests of the bathhouse are fantastic. I love the cultural depth of it, without having ever really delved into it, but hey, gotta save some fun for later, right? I get the sense that they are gods and obviously we meet two river gods that inform us about their “function”. What is so wonderful about them is how different they all look, how ridiculous some of them look (giant chicks, anyone?) and how the movie is all like: of course these gods wanna have a good time in the bathhouse, y’all. I enjoy watching the “stink spirit” with the protruding bubbles of immense stinkery and how he turns into that slightly creepy river god. And I love love love how Chihiro just takes the gift her gives her and is grateful without having the slightest clue what these drab, brown ball might actually be.
Talking about river gods we need to talk about Haku. Oh, Haku. How you are a dragon, but also not, because you are a river god. How you could be portrayed as a love interest, but are not, because you are a loyal friend. How you could be a simple character, but are not, because you’re complex and you need to be to both survive the situation and help those who do not know how to survive it. Can this boy do any wrong? And okay, here is maybe one thing that I can whine about when talking about Spirited Away: The whole “we’ve met before, remember?” plot device felt a little contrived and I feel the story would have at least equally worked if it had been left out. But it’s nothing really. And it is totally made up for by my favorite song of the super-amazing soundtrack: The Dragon Boy. That shit is a film score, children, and you better appreciate.
Supporting characters are of course of major importance for a film to work perfectly and with Spirited Away we encounter an awesome array of memorable supports. I love the portrayal of Chihiro’s parents, I love Lin (and all the obviously yet curiously non-human staff at the bath-house (seriously though, what are they??)), the frog, love grumpy Kamaji and heart with all my might those little soot-ball beings. I think Boh, the Yubaba-like bird and the three jumping heads are hilarious characters and I especially love how Boh re-enacts the scene of Chihiro crushing the black slug coming out of Haku’s body.
Then there is Yubaba. And amazing she is. Seriously, her looks alone win her ten points. Her whole damn behaviour and how she is, after all, still a pretty decent sort of being who is trying to play loosely by the rules, trying to make a profit. While she is sort of a villain for both Chihiro and Haku, I never get the sense that there is real ill will against either of them involved and in the end, neither of them is really furious at her for what she does. Plus, there is the mystery of Zeniba. Is that really her twin sister or is it just another very different aspect of the same person? It is also interesting that Yubaba is portrayed as both large and in charge, yet motherly, cunning and business focused, yet capable of empathy and sorrow. Despite seemingly being a caricature and a simplified female villain, Yubaba is actually quite a complex character, very reminiscent of Dola of The Castle in the Sky with her tough exterior concealing a compassionate interior.
Talking about quasi-villains, there is of course No Face. It is not that we do not see a face, at first it is pretty much all we see of it. But it really is a mask, and even as such does not seem to be placed on the body where the face actually is. But that’s all just the name, what is really amazing is how No Face is both a villain that turns out to be someone in need of an understanding friend and how it remains this mysterious being throughout, its background and history never once explained, without the story suffering from it in any way. No Face can be interpreted as a lot of things. On the surface level it is a spirit that seeks for something more meaningful than earthly possessions and realizes that these cannot fulfil the longing it has for this something else. Turns out it is somebody understanding it and taking care, which in itself is after all no fluffy and mindless concept, but gets even more complicated because it is so closely tied to the character of Chihiro. No Face could just be after her, because she was nice to it, but despite that being plausible, it still begs the question in how far No Face is a reflection of the beings populating the bath-house or even of Chihiro’s feelings. Plus, No Face enables Chihiro to prove how awesome of a character she is in actually just coming around to accepting No Face as a companion because she isn’t really frightened of him.
And OH. MY. LORD. The train ride, you guys, this fucking train ride. A little like the airplane-cemetery scene in Porco Rosso the train ride is the single most amazing thing about this movie. I absolutely adore it. I love how the story goes from gross villain chasing after Chihiro to the two of them sitting right next to each other on a train that is full of people who are nothing but shadows. The whole ride is so deeply and touchingly melancholic. This devastating sense of a disconnect when looking at those shadow people realizing that these are probably just normal people. Or were normal people. Or want to be normal people. But we never know what they really are. We just now what they look like and see how their lives in the train and on the platforms looks like the lives the we are living and good gracious fuck, what does that say about us a human beings? What comment is being made, and why, if I think it is a comment, does this scene make me so profoundly sad?
Can’t handle it, folks. We should discuss this one in the comments.
Oh, isn’t it obvious how I haven’t really talked about the most important person in this movie yet? I give you: Chihiro. Yay! Of all the young girl protagonists that Miyazaki bombards us with she is my favorite, because damn. It is amazing how she is this grumpy little “don’t wanna move here” thing that seems so passive and unwilling and turns into a full-blown heroine with unlimited superpowers of acceptance, forgiveness, courage and strength. She is, in one word, admirable and it is exactly because she is never set up to be that, she just happens to react and ultimately act that way. And that is because she cares. All the beings she meets, she cares about, be it a ginormous baby, three bouncing heads, sootballs, villains or jumping lanterns. Chihiro cares about each and every one of them, doesn’t dismiss or discard them, but takes them for who and what they are and perceives an intrinsic worth and value in their existence and the mind-boggling mastery of everything amazing of this is just almost too much to bear. Chihiro is the most unlikely heroine and as such she absolutely rules and I wish I could be like that.
Whoda thunk it? With nothing to complain about, Spirited Away is simply my favorite Miyazaki movie of them all. I am hardly capable of any serious discussion because I have to verbally drool over its awesomeness and I hope you can forgive me.
If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it.
If you have, go re-watch it.
The Japanese film adaptation of Earthseawas produced by Studio Ghibli, famous throughout the World for Oscar-winning movies such as Spirited Away and nominees like Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke. All of these were directed by Miyazaki Hayao, one of the Co-founders of Studio Ghibli and it was him who expressed an interest in producing and directing an animated version of the first three Earthsea novels in the early 1980s. But it was not until July 29 2006 that a movie adaptation called Gedo Senki (Ged’s War Chronicles) saw a theatrical release, later released outside Japan with the English title Tales from Earthsea. This movie however was not directed by Miyazaki Hayao due to his time restraints, being involved in the production of Howl’s Moving Castle, a fact that Ursula K. Le Guin bemoans on her official homepage, since she initially agreed to the production based on her admiration for his earlier work. Instead of Miyazaki Hayao his son Miyazaki Gorō directed the film. Gedo Senki reached the Nr. 1 position of the Japanese Box Office in its opening week and held this spot for five non-consecutive weeks. It wasn’t a big commercial success abroad and still has not been released in the U.S. due to Sci-Fi Channel still holding the rights for the Earthsea novels there.
The Earthsea-series, written by the very popular Ursula K. Le Guin, consists of seven short stories, two of them published before any Earthsea novel was written, the other five all being part of the 2001 publication Tales fromEarthsea, and five novels. The first three novels are called A Wizard of Earthsea(1969), The Tombs of Atuan(1971) and The Farthest Shore(1972). Le Guin was approached by her publisher to write one or more novels targeted at an audience of young adults in the genre of fantasy. She drew upon her two short stories The Word of Unbinding(published first 1964 in the January issue of Fantastic) and The Rule of Names(published first 1964 in the April issue of Fantastic) to further explore Earthsea, the world she created for these two.
While the first three Earthsea novels soon came to be considered en par with fantasy classics such as the Lord of theRings and the Narnia novels, they have also been criticized by feminist critics, for they feature mainly male protagonists and delegate the power to the men, while rendering mainly isolated male wizard characters as wise. This changed when Le Guin opened the second trilogy of Earthsea with the 1990 publication of Tehanu. The feminist tone of Tehanu, expressed in the focus on women’s lives in Earthsea’s society. Tales from Earthseawas published in 2001 and features the stories The Finder, Darkrose and Diamond, The Bones of the Earth, On the High Marsh and the article A Description of Earthsea. Le Guin herself intended the last story, Dragonfly, to be the link between Tehanu and TheOther Wind, the last novel of Earthsea, also published in 2001.
“My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white” – Le Guin 2004
Although admittedly writing in a fantasy tradition that draws upon Nordic myths that usually accepts being white as the norm, Le Guin refused to adhere to this norm and decided for her Earthsea-series (but also for most of her other works) to establish protagonists of color.
Le Guin herself admits to didactic intentions, claiming that she expected her reading audience to be mainly white American adolescents who might have had some trouble identifying with Earthsea’s main protagonist Ged, which is why she chose to present his skin-color only after readers would already have eased themselves “into Ged’s skin” before realizing that “it wasn’t a white one” (- Le Guin 2004).
Even though we can also find somewhat problematic depictions of ethnicity (in itself a problematic term) in Earthsea that are not explicitly addressed by Ursula K. Le Guin, she acknowledges the fact that her presentation of non-white characters could be perceived as being problematic. She states that she is “intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice,” and that she knows that this can be considered to constitute “an act of extreme arrogance” (- Le Guin 2004).
“what animation can do to the human body is one of the most interesting and provocative aspects of the medium. Anime representations of the human figure range across an extraordinary variety of types (and archetypes), implicitly promising a vast range of fictional identities for the viewer to revel in.”
It is therefore interesting to look at how the human body is represented in anime in terms of skin-color, and there is a startling observation to be made. Anime characters do not look specifically Japanese, but in fact very white-western. Most characters are white, meaning they exhibit fair skin, often with blond or light brunette hair. Susan Napier argues that these body types are neither Japanese nor Western but rather “anime-style”-bodies that display the notion of mukokuseki, being stateless, and refers to statements, that Japanese try to de-Japanize the anime characters in order to create an alternative world that serves escapist tendencies or underlines the incongruence with Japanese reality. By referring to these character-types as “postethnic” (especially with regard to dystopian fantasies of future worlds) she also points at their hybrid nature, the result of merging ethnic and racial identities within the course of time. Nevertheless many Japanese anime, even in futuristic settings, still stress Japanese cultural practices and traditions. She claims that it is this Otherness, that is neither Japanese nor Western, in relation to familiar cultural settings, that allows Japanese audiences (but to some extent also other, especially Western, audiences) to explore their identities without the constraining boundaries of realistic depiction. The anime style is considered to produce characters that work as a projection surface with features that render them human,
If we examine the characters in Gedo Senki bearing all this in mind, it is striking to see how conventional the protagonists are depicted in this cultural context of anime production. Apart from the villain Cob, who turns out to be a wizard of uncanny power, who was transformed by the evil that possesses him in his search for eternal life, all the other main characters exhibit neither surprising hair-colors nor exaggerated eyes. Their hair colors range from brown to blonde and their skin exhibits different shades of what could be called white. Even with regards to “extras”, characters that appear for only a few moments in scenes that take place in cities or villages, there are no characters who deviate from this color-scheme.
The extraordinary potential of anime in the production of human bodies that transgress at least national stereotypes and at most the human form itself is only used in Gedo Senki to render the antagonist as non-human, or beyond human. But it does in no way disrupt the patterns of perception of its viewers by introducing characters of a different racial background. Although the characters might not be Japanese, as their target audience, they nevertheless exhibit common anime-style conventions of depiction that make them easily identifiable and easily consumable – even if the movie is watched in so-called Western nations.
It seems that in the process of adaptation, the dealing with the issue of skin-color was dismissed in favor of presenting characters that were easy to identify with and believable in a setting of a somewhat medieval high-culture. And obviously the decision had been made that characters of color would not be able to be believable in this setting or achieve identification. To pick up on Ursula K. Le Guin’s critique, not only has the evil potential within human beings been externalized in the movie, but also the problematic issue of skin-color, to the extent, that it only becomes an issue external of the movie for those who are interested in it, but not within the context of the film where this issue was obviously considered to be too unsettling for an (Japanese and/or white-western) audience.
Even if the filmmakers would have kept their choice of not problematizing the issue of race and color in their movie, they still could have depicted all of the characters to be black, but they obviously chose not too. If they had, they would have been able to place characters, who are usually not considered for heroic deeds in the Japanese context, at the centre of an heroic tale and call into question not only stereotyping processes in the individual viewer, but also the foundations of power assumed and wielded in human societies.
The unconventional rendering of Le Guins protagonists as being people of color has not been translated into the Japanese anime version. Although the adaptation claims to have given thought to the issue and to have come to the conclusion that the allegedly multicolored casts in the films represented the best solution to the issue, my impression is that the production team has dealt with the issue only to the extent that they arrived at the decision to dismiss it by eradicating most traces of being non-white in principal characters with only a few token exceptions. They abandoned the concept of presenting heroes of color, a step that would have been challenging to production and casting norms in the depiction of human bodies in Japanese anime, in favor of a seemingly safer way, that transforms racially subversive characters into white (here standing for both western-white in U.S. tradition and Japanese appearance, that nurtures an ideal appearance modeled after “western looks”) characters in order to cater to a white mass audience that is thought to be constituting the targeted markets. The sad outcome of this white-centered market logic is that it cannot give any insight into how successful a version with protagonists of color would have been – we obviously have to wait for future adaptations that decide to take more courageous steps.
“Not to choose, these days, is a choice made. All fiction has ethical, political, and social weight, and sometimes the works that weigh the heaviest are those apparently fluffy or escapist fictions whose authors declare themselves ‘above politics,’ ‘just entertainers,’ and so on.” (Le Guin, quoted after Elisabeth Anne Leonard(1997): “Into Darkness Peering” – Race and Color in the Fantastic)
If you haven’t read Earthsea yet, I highly recommend you to do so!
Since this is a text, you cannot hear me sing the Japanese theme song of Ponyo to it, but instead let me (textually) welcome you to the review of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo! Other Miyazaki March posts are found HERE in the directory, but let us waste no time and get to this wet adventure brought to us by Studio Ghibli.
Ponyo is obviously loosely based on The Little Mermaid, at least in terms of girl from the sea falling in love with boy on the land and wanting to be girl on the land and her dad being all against it and havoc and ultimately love and happiness. Except for the Japanese setting and the Ponyo protagonists being much younger and no evil villains or cruel deaths (TheLittle Mermaid is after all, not only available in its Disney version). It is the second most recent Miyazaki/Ghibli feature, the most recent if you only count the ones that Miyazaki directed and was released to theaters in 2008. It’s lovely but it suffers from two major problems that hinder it from being a great movie.
Ponyo, more so than other Miyazaki features, has a very distinct animation style that really works for its advantage. Reminding me a lot of my favorite Disney movie Lilo & Stitch we encounter a lot of watercolor backgrounds in a lighter than usual color palette. The colors are beautiful and the animation as such is of course flawless. I really like the character design, I particularly like how Sosuke’s hair doesn’t seem like a hairdo for someone his age at all, how his mother is this plucky and bouncy young thing who drives cars Really Bad. I love the whole underwater scenery, once the sea level rises and swallows most of the islands and I think the animation of Ponyo’s mother, the goddess of the sea, is beautifully done.
There are a few things I find questionable in the animation, which is that the water has eyes sometimes, which is just as nonsensical as the fire in Howl’s Moving Castle having eyes, but there the fire is a central character and I can look past it, here the whole water having eyes thing is just, well, weird and doesn’t really serve a purpose. Plus, it looks a bit like wonky animation. The other thing would be the characters design of Ponyo’s dad, Fujimoto, who looks like a clownish drag queen having a real bad hair day and while it is okay and even kinda fun, it also makes practically no sense to have him look like that and each time I see the movie I find his visuals really distracting.
I find that the main strength in Ponyo lies with the supporting cast. Ponyo irritates me a little and Sosuke is fine and nice, but it is really Sosuke’s mother, the elderly women at the retirement home and Ponyo’s mum who make the movie a joyful ride for me. The problem I have with the protagonists is that neither of them makes for a believable child (unlike the two girls in My Neighbor Totoro) and as unbelievable children they have to be too much like the children they are supposed to be in order to make me look past the believability issue. And no, I don’t really suppose you understand what I mean by that. Well, with Sosuke, he is presented as this very young kindergarten boy who is much more curious and much more serious than kids his age usually are, but it is this independence and curiosity that drive the plot. I just feel like he is a touch too sombre to feel like he could be an actual kid. I like the idea behind it, but I have my issues with the execution.
Sosuke’s mother Lisa on the other hand feels like a real person. Granted, she drives cars like she is a total whacko and endangers her child without skipping a beat, but her being furious over her husband’s absence, her coming around, her love for Sosuke and the overall way she moves and talks feel like I am meeting a real person there.
The gang of elderly women at the retirement home is awesome in their mix of grumpy and cool, how some of them are the perfect grandmothers and others are not (which is just what people have to live with in real life), but in the face of water swallowing all up, they work together really well and I like how they’re all giggling little girls over the fact that they can walk again. I am also really fond of the settings the movie comes up with. Having it take place in a retirement home and a kindergarten is pretty neat, coupled with nice underwater scenes and Sosuke’s home on an awesome island makes for pretty odd but pretty interesting places to have the plot evolve in.
The principle of not explaining everything going on in the movie works both to Ponyo’s advantage and disadvantage, unfortunately more so to the latter. What I like about the movie is how it’s not fussy about the whole transformation of Ponyo. The movie is all like: sure, she is a fish with a girl’s face and then all of a sudden she has these weird legs and arms and in time develops into a regular five year old girl just to switch back to the weird arms and simplified face every once in a while. And not one time anyone is particularly bummed out about it (especially not Sosuke) nor does the movie waste one split-second trying to tell us why that happens. I like that because it leaves room for our imagination to interpret these changes. Is it because she is in love with Sosuke? Is it because she needs his approval? Is it because it takes up too much of her magical powers? Is it a combination of all of these things?
But this no-explanation-policy provides for at least one of the major fails of this movie: The dangerous situation that earth is in because of Ponyo’s wish. I mean: WTF? So, because Ponyo wants to be with Sosuke and wants to be a girl our planet is going to see humanity wiped off of its face because the moon gets closer and sea level rises? How the hell does that work? What is so damn special about Ponyo and/or her wish that she/it holds the power over the fate of effin’ humanity? The whole speculation-is-fun rule does not apply here, because we are told very explicitly that this is how it is, we are just never told as to why that is. And that would be fine IF THIS WOULDN’T BE THE CENTRAL DANGER IN THIS PLOT! How am I supposed to care about this shit if I don’t even know how it works? Cause I hear about it and go “wait, what?” instead of “ah, interesting!” It’s not that I expect this incredibly elaborate answer as to why the fate of humanity is linked to Ponyo’s wish (though writing it out like that it practically begs for an elaborate answer) but to have at least some hint of an idea as to why there is the connection and how it is that it all gets solved by eternal love would be nice and lend the story some plausibility and make me more invested – and put me off a little less.
But I said there are two major flaws, and there are. Number 2 is closely linked to number 1 because: Humanity is saved because Sosuke professes his eternal love for Ponyo. Except he doesn’t even really. Except they are both 5 years old. Except: wait, what??
So the whole solution to saving the planet lies in Ponyo needing to be loved forever for who she is by the boy she fell in love with and bam! crisis averted. While the aspect of him loving her even though she is a fish is cool and all, Sosuke is still five years old. How would he know about eternal love (monogamy? relationship crises? personality development?) and how is his “I guess” answer, half-assed as it is already, enough for a goddess to say “yeah, he’ll probably never question their relationship based on Ponyo’s background in FUTURE YEARS TO COME”. I mean, fuck that. I know that Ponyo is targeted at children more so than other Miyazaki features and I know that this is probably why readers of this post don’t think throwing around “fucks” here is appropriate. But really, I sit there and watch the movie and am all “fuck that,” ‘cause that is ridiculous bullshit and it bugs me so much because it ruins the whole movie. Couldn’t she have asked: “will you promise to try to be her friend for the rest of your life and give her support when needed?” Okay, yay! Might still be much, but yeah, he could. But “love her forever for who she is”? Asking that a five year old boy, no matter how supposedly wise beyond his years, is like asking the Tea Party to preserve minority rights and placing all your future political actions on their “sure, yes”. Mind you, Sosuke is surely not to be equated with the Tea Party Movement, but his answer – even if believable in this given situation – is just so not suited to inform a decision of that magnitude in any way that it makes the whole plot end on that weird note. So, ten years from now Sosuke has a crush on another girl and then sea-monsters will rise and devour us all? That’s what I am thinking when the end-credits roll.
I am also not the biggest fan of the principle “girl’s fate lies in boy’s hand” here, but I will just note my displeasure with it and move on. I am also wondering: Will this crisis hit us every time one of Ponyo’s sisters falls in love? And why do they look like her? And are they younger? And in how far are they different from her? And why is none of these questions addressed when they are so freaking obvious?
But I don’t want to end this review sounding like I hate the movie with a passion, because really, I don’t. It is still a fun ride and very enjoyable. It has a super-charming support cast and breath-taking animation and the plot itself makes for an adventurous ride. There are just some holes in this plot that you can steer the Enterprise through and I am particularly infuriated that they are not addressed and fixed because they seem so central to the movie’s message. Just imagine how marvellous Ponyo could have been without these plot holes? I know, frustrating.
Pick up your broomsticks and fly with me into another instalment of Miyazaki March where today we approach Hayao Miyazaki’s animation oeuvre with taking a closer look at Majo no Takkyūbin, better known as Kiki’s Delivery Service. Other entries for Miyazaki March onMe, all over the place can be found HERE in the directory post.
Kiki’s Delivery Service was released to Japanese theaters in 1989. It is based upon a children’s book by the Japanese author Eiko Kadono, but rather loosely, incorporating elements and a plot not present in the more episodic source material. For a short time, the project was in danger of being shelved, due to Mrs. Kadono being unhappy with the changes made, but she eventually came around. The movie proved to be successful in both Japan and outside of it, marking the first release under the Ghibli-Disney cooperation for international distribution, which led to some minor changes in dialogue and musical score. The movie was also adapted into a musical in 1993 in Japan, and while that sounds like a not so great thing to my ears, I can still get the appeal of it, because after all the song of the closing credits “Yasashisa ni tsutsumareta nara” ranks firmly among the top 3 of my favorite Japanese songs, cause it can. And cause I can. And cause it’s cool. And you might find it somewhere on the net (cause I couldn’t).
Kiki’s Delivery Service is first and foremost a coming of age tale. It revolves around Kiki, who as a young witch at the age of 13 sets out to make it on her own in the big wide world. The narrative follows her to a new city, to new friendships, to new responsibilities and hardships and to inevitable changes. And it does so wonderfully. I would not rank Kiki’s Delivery Service as one of my favorite Miyazaki pictures, but I am always pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up as a movie, given that from description alone it doesn’t sound like much. But much like My Neighbor Totoro the biggest strength of the movie is the realism with which it presents its characters. Kiki’s struggles as a teenage girl are interesting because they are believable and because Kiki as a character is reacting believably to them. It is a joy to see how she is excited, how she loves but misses her parents, how she is afraid of the city and unsure of how friendships form and evolve, how she worries about her business taking off and how she is homesick. In all of this we get to see a character embodying traits and actions that we have observed in others around us (or even ourselves) and thus recognize the significance of what is being said and can appreciate the way it is being said. If you disagree, you can replace all the we’s in the previous sentences with and I, because I don’t want to force you to think like me (but really: you totally should).
With Kiki’s Delivery Service we once more have a movie full of loveable characters. There is no villain and no threat, there is just self-doubt and homesickness to battle. The parents are adorable, Osono and her husband in the bakery are super-cute in their opposites attract kinda way, Tombo is a hilariously awesome boy with the right amount of curiousity, humour and persistence, and Ursula is an independent spirit just waiting to be asked how to roll with life. On top of that we have city by the sea that is both full of life and full of charm, filled with people who embrace the arrival of a new witch in training and enjoy their (ridiculously fantastic) gardens out in the back towards the seaside on terraces. I mean, seriously, can someone please get me a house like the one that the Gutiokipanja bakery is situated in? Yes? Thank you.
Presenting some things simply as a given really works well for the movie. The whole concept of a young witch of 13 setting out on her own and just finding a village where people will accept her and integrate her is pretty alien to most of us. But in the context of the film it is just how things work and everybody knows and thus we know and thus it never becomes an issue. I love how elegantly the movie flows from presenting the concept, which leaves me with a question mark in my head, to just have me swallow it cause it seems so perfectly fitting for the whole set-up. It helps, of course, that the whole thing takes place in the now widely familiar Miyazaki fantasia world, where countries look like Europe somewhen between 1900 and now, with magic and technology coexisting and fashion doing what it’s happening to do. Just in case you’re interested and happen to stay in Frankfurt am Main in Germany: There is a café called Iimori that looks like it’s taken right out of a Miyazaki movie and is totally worth a visit.
Coming of age and alla that I guess we have to talk the talk here, folks. Girl is 13. Eh, adolescence? Yes, dear audience, we need to address menstruation. Not that there is anything wrong with addressing menstruation, but I better admit right away that my experience with menstruation and all that goes with it is, how shall we put this?, limited. And to be clear, Kiki here in the movie does not hit puberty and does not have her first period. But being the overanalyzing brat that I am, I of course cannot help but read the whole menstruation issue into this coming of age tale of a young girl. Before you accuse me of inserting issues that are not explicitly there, let me just state, that as a critic (whoa, Alex, you define yourself as a critic now? Hear, hear.) I think it is a fruitful concept to “read” some of what is going on in the movie as a metaphor to what happens when girls start to have their period. After all, Kiki’s body reacts to all the changes in the movies, she becomes sick (ok, I know, it’s a cold), but it is also because she confides into a motherly figure that she learns to get over with not only the cold but learns to accept her new situation in general and even learns to appreciate it and become happy with and curious about it. Being the non-expert on menstruation that I am, I construct this as a metaphor for the changes that the female body at the beginning of puberty goes through and what that potentially does to a young girl’s psyche. Though that of course begs the question why I make it about menstruation then and not puberty in general. I kinda feel like I am losing my point here, so let us just discuss that in the comments, if anyone cares to contradict (or support) my theory.
Can we please talk about the cat? Or can we please talk about Sailor Moon? Or can we please talk about how the cat in Kiki’s Delivery Service looks like Luna from Sailor Moon? Ladies and Gentlemen, what is going on here? Charming, the cat, granted. But Jiji looks and acts so much like Luna from Sailor Moon that I was really surprised at first. I mean, what is this about? Was Studio Ghibli trying to cash in on Sailor Moon popularity and thus came up with an identical cat (minus the moon on the forehead)? Curious, I find it do, as Yoda probably would say, if he weren’t so far above all this shit. And while I am in general fond of the cat and fond of cat interaction, I was a little disappointed how gender stereotypical the female cat was introduced and presented in Kiki’s Delivery Service. I mean it’s a freaking cat. Does it have to look like it’s a female cat with long hair and eyelashes? Are cats that look like Jiji himself too unattractive, is that what you’re trying to say, movie? And then they have children that look like either her or him (ermh, Lady and the Tramp, anyone?). You know, genetic mixture and all, they can also look not exactly like their parents. For all gender progressiveness with Studio Ghibli in general and Kiki’s Delivery Service in particular, the whole cat love story affair seemed like a step backwards. Meow.
But that should not distract from the overall fondness I feel for the movie. If today were a Sunday and if now would be afternoon and if my mood were “blue” I would totally sit down and watch this just to get me up. Movies are the best medicine, isn’t that what they’re saying?
Today we board the plane to fly into Miyazaki territory yet unexplored by Studio Ghibli. Which is another way to say: Welcome to this instalment of Miyazaki March (other posts on Hayao Miyazaki films in the directory HERE), where I will take a closer look at Porco Rosso.
Released to Japanese theaters in 1992 Porco Rosso was very successful domestically, even though it is one of the lesser known Miyazaki/Ghibli features internationally. Interestingly enough there are rumours circulating that Miyazaki himself plans a sequel to Porco Rosso, entitled The Last Sortie, featuring an older Porco allegedly equivalent to Hayao Miyazaki’s own progressing age, but as of yet, there has been no official word on the matter. It is the 6th Miyazaki directed film for Studio Ghibli and one thing that I am always extremely delighted about when watching this movie is its soundtrack by Joe Hisaishi. Granted, Miyazaki movies tend to have excellent soundtracks, but this one in particular is just so awesome that I had the track The Wind of Time in an organ version as my cell phone ringtone. Anime Geekdom, taken to new heights (and just for the record, I do not consider myself to be an anime geek).
So, Porco Rosso.
On the Me, All Over The Place Facebook Page (yep, shameless) I was specifically asked to review this one and I suspect that request was made for a reason. Reason being: Porco Rosso is one of Miyazaki’s finest. I know people who do definitely not think so, but I better say it now: I L.O.V.E. it. And I think it is one of Miyazaki’s finest, too. Deal with it. Or rather, let me tell you why.
I just have to direct you to THIS wonderful post talking about Porco Rosso, because it pretty much nails the feeling that I get from watching it (and judging by the comments, it nails what others feel as well). Porco Rosso is fun, it is surprising at times, it seems very old fashion at others and has a nice little plot going for itself. But what makes Porco Rosso such a standout for me is how all of that adds up to such a bitter-sweet glimpse on something wonderful bound to vanish it breaks my tiny little heart, because, awww. Porco Rosso’s fate is tragic, his friends died, his relationship to Gina is emotionally difficult and being against the forces of fascism in the 1920s is right and well, but sort of a lost cause for years to come. The movie feels like a momentary glimpse into lives and times that are joyous and happy, because these are happy events, but underneath it all there is grief and sadness and the notion that this is going to be over very soon. Carpe diem, y’all, and memento mori.
At first glance Porco Rosso seems to be somewhat of an oddity in the Miyazaki oeuvre. One reason is the male protagonist, although if you think about it, he is not alone as such, and he shares his screen time with strong female characters. The movie is furthermore explicitly political, which seems uncommon for animation in general but also for Miyazaki features. Again, this is, if you think about it, not true. Castle in the Sky is decidedly political in its advocacy for environmental awareness, although it is of course, just like the war in Howl’s Moving Castle, not linked to a concrete time-period or political system of our real-life history. But there is also Princess Mononoke where historical references are more explicit, so even on that account Porco Rosso is not alone. Heck, not even when it comes to characters central to the plot being pigs. Spirited Away, anyone? It is interesting though, that, at least to me, Porco Rosso seems much more unique and outstanding in all of these respects.
With every re-watch I am surprised anew now complex the exploration of various themes throughout the movie is.
There is an explicit anti-fascism and an implicit anti-war stance to the movie, but it does not go down the easy route. Porco Rosso was a soldier in the war, after all, and he is still friends with people working for the current political system. His job of the moment is a reminiscence of what he did before and as such it is certainly no less prone to violence and conflict. But the movie and Porco himself call this into question repeatedly. His past is only vaguely clear but what we get to learn is that besides losing his human appearance he has lost great friends. They were proud war pilots all of them, but he is the only one to survive and the memories of his friend are nagging at him, making his friendship with Gina – and his feelings for her – a complicated one. He loves being a pilot and he loves the thrill of fighting as a pilot, but he nonetheless wonder about the purpose of a soldier/pilot and realizes that what he does and loves is something that will ultimately mean his death. In a flashback to the story he tells to Fio we get to experience an amazing sequence of his near-death experience as a pilot on the verge of exhaustion. He ascends over the cloud to witness as seemingly neverending stream of aircrafts making their rounds. All those deceased war pilots, his colleagues at least in spirit. And he knows: this is what is waiting for him. And he has made peace with it. Awww. *insert heartbreak here*
Just like other Miyazaki features we get to get an unusual discussion of the role of women for animation standards, in this case even for Miyazaki standards as well. Because in Porco Rosso women are the objects of desire and admiration of men and Porco himself has trouble trusting Fio to be able to repair his aircraft. What on the surface seems to contradict Miyzaki’s usual stance towards female agency and strong female characters turns out to be a different approach to the same message. Women can be more than pretty and desireable, they can be technical experts, hard workers even in old age, headstrong, independent and most of all agents of their own fate. The real difference in Porco Rosso – and one that could be argued is substantially more feminist than his other narratives – is that Porco is the male protagonist but needs a female, Fio, to actually enable him to do what he needs to do (repairing his ship and facing his foe) and another female, Gina, to accept his fate and embrace happiness by telling him repeatedly that he might think it wrong, but she thinks they should totally hit it off together. And in the end she, or rather: both, get their wish. Implicitly, I know. (Still: Awwww!)
One of my often repeated mantras on this blog is that I think that there are a number of films that really benefit from not explaining stuff, because an explanation would probably just ruin it. It doesn’t always work, but here it does. We never really get to know why Marco became Porco Rosso, what sort of curse made the man a pig. But the mystery is ok, because what we learn is that it’s not what you look like, it’s who you are and what you do. And Porco may look like a pig, but he’s decent and awesome and that is why everyone loves him. And Fio might be a pretty young thing, but girl knows what she wants and girl knows how to build a fucking good aircraft. I find it to be remarkable how the movie succeeds in wandering the thin line of making clear that of course our outer surface matters, mostly to people who do not really know us, but that it is of course so much more important who we are underneath this surface and how we get to be these people. Because or despite of our appearance it is thanks to things we say and do that we should be judged and loved. And yes, you are probably already retching from all the cheese I am spreading here, but isn’t it just darlingly wonderful if a movie does not have to hammer this message home but provides it as a subtext to dialogue and plot that do not have to state what they believe in and want to share with us? Marvellous!
Remember how I raved about Lilo & Stitch being my favorite Disney movie? Probably not, but the fuck, Lilo & Stitch is my favorite Disney movies and one of my all-time-favs in general, one of the reasons probably being that there is no villain, as is the case in most Miyazaki movies, and as kind is the case here. We could rather say that there is no visible “villain”, since the once who are introduced as villains turn out to be no villains at all. Porco Rosso is a little peculiar in that it actually has a villain in the form of fascism and how it interferes with people’s life and happiness. But then again we could argue that the same holds true for war in Howl’s Moving Castle, technological progress in Mononoke, or atomic weapons in Nausicaä. We could read it as a statement against ideology and systems that disregard the human being as the individual that it is. Individuals are not villains in Miyazaki movies, they are just people who might make mistakes. But structures and systems that are kept alive and empowered by mistakes are villains that every being on his or her individual should fight against. With me still?
Last but not least I need to repeat how the animation is breathtakingly beautiful. You might say: it’s a Miyazaki movie, d’uh, though I feel that there are differences that some of the earlier ones suffer from a little. But my oh my, there is so much goodness, from the imaginative powers that were poured into all the aircrafts (which is allegedly a subject close to Miyazaki’s heart) to the amazing scenery of little islands in the Adriatic. Porco Rosso’s hideout is neat. But most beautiful IMHO is of course the small islet that Gina lives on, complete with a beautiful house and a gorgeously lush secret garden. And can’t you just see yourself sitting there with a good glass of wine after a nice dinner reading your favorite book while the sun sets in your back? Hell yes.
Keeping with the unconventional castle theme we’ll have a look at Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky for Miyazaki March (all other posts HERE), in which we will discuss why pirates love the color pink, why mining cities are awesome and how robots will save all our asses. Take a seat, enjoy the ride.
To me at first it seemed that Castle in the Sky was a rather new Miyazaki/Ghibli feature because it was released to theaters in Germany after Howl’s Moving Castle. However, it is the first ‘official’ Ghibli feature and was released in Japan in 1986. It was released to German theaters twenty years later. You are probably not surprised by this, but Castle in the Sky is one of the lesser financial successes of Studio Ghibli. It made enough, but wasn’t a massive smash and in the US it was a straight to DVD release.
So, right away: the beginning felt too long. I missed being thrown into the whole narrative, even though the movie tried to do just that. We get main characters and pirates and falling from the sky within the first few minutes. But then the whole introduction of Pazu and where he works and where he lives and how he and Sheeta get to know each other and how they are chased and how they escape… It just seems to never end. I want them to get to the damn castle already, but it takes soooooo long. And while I usually really appreciate movies taking their time I am especially frustrated, because I know that the whole Laputa bit is pretty exciting and brings up some relevant points and plot developments. So I get super-impatient if I have to sit through the third chasing scene where they just barely escape when I know that so much more interesting stuff is going to happen. And on top of that I believe that some of that time could have been used way better in giving us some more so see in Laputa itself. Some more time for wonder, some more time for the movie’s eco-friendly message, for example. Grah!
Having bitched and moaned about the too long intro in the mining city: the mining city is an awesome place. Sure, it probably sucks to live and have to work there, but the way the city nestles itself into the crevices of the cliffs and rocks just looks really amazing. Oh, and the railroad-tracks are ridiculous! In the best way imaginable, of course. There is so much steampunk going on, it’s even going to hurt modern reinterpretation Sherlock Holmes’ head. While I am actually a proponent of shortening the time the narrative spends in the city, at the same time I want more time to just have to look at it. Maybe this is really my critique: we get to see those incredible and incredibly beautiful places, but spend too little time there to appreciate their full beauty and wonder.
But let us move on to the characters.
The pirates are a lovely lot. Castle in the Sky is an exception to an otherwise pretty accurate Miyazaki rule in that we have a clearly identified villain who remains a villain until the very end. And since he sucks and is rather lame cause his motivation is a little movie-villain-esque I am just going to omit any discussion of him as a character. However, we also witness the occurrence of another basic rule: introduction of villains that turn out to be good guys actually, which in this case is of course Dola and her pirate gang. And holla, are they hilarious or what? From Dola herself and the pink color palette chosen for their vehicles and uniforms alike (most probably due to Dola’s hair color), these pirates are very reminiscent of the Porco Rosso air pirates and as such they are both sweet and adorable (although they also heavily play into the stereotype of men thinking with their dicks, which is something that the movie will not outright state, but which is certainly what’s going on). And Dola is just one heck of a character. If I ever wanted to encounter a pirate, it would most certainly be her. Also, what is going on with the family ties? She clearly isn’t everyone’s mom, and the dad clearly isn’t everyone’s dad (and the two of them might never even ever had any sort of romantic or sexual involvement), yet they all consider each other close family. How utterly endearing. I’m all pro-choice (so much for controversial statements today), especially when it comes to choosing your family ties.
Castle in the Sky, together with Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke is Miyazaki’s strongest and most overt message for the conservation and preservation of nature, coupled with the graphic damnation of the brutality of humankind (and certain forms of technological ‘progress’). Which is really interesting in this case, because it is an unlikely setting and actually not something the movie seems to be about in the beginning. Does it work as the eco-friendly tale it tries to be? I am actually not sure. I think the robots taking care of trees and animals on Laputa are powerful imagery, but as I’ve stated before, I think we spend too little time with them. I think the impact could be much stronger if only we got to witness their commitment a little more.
And are those robots iconic characters? Well, I know there is a replica of one in the Studio Ghibli museum in Japan, but then again, there are other rather similar robots in other animation features. But that should not distract us from the fact that these robots here in Castle in the Sky are sickening in the most positive sense of the word (drag-references, ahoi!), because those dude_ttes care and do so with a (electronic) passion. Besides them being really super-cute as animal shelters and tree-huggers I am also fascinated by how efficiently the movie presents the various sides of them. We first encounter one as a relict from ancient times just to see it become this machine on a killing spree, and honeys, a killing spree this is. Make not mistake about Laputa being pretty and cozy and alla that, these robots are crazy weapons. They blast through anything and make it burst, which looks (aesthetically) amazing but also really scary. But then there are those who ran out of power, and my oh my, am I the only one who is so thoroughly touched by the imagery used here? Them sitting down on the roots of the tree to slowly be enshrined and absorbed by it? Because when we talk about choosing your family ties, this is what we need to address as well: These robots are beings we think of as unrelated to or even existing in opposition to nature, but here in the floating castle of Laputa they choose to “return” to nature and lie down in the embrace of a ginormous tree. This conception alone is so freaking fantastic, it makes me shed some tears of joy (at least theoretically).
All in all, this is not my favorite Miyazaki film, but it certainly is a good movie with a powerful message that could be a tad shorter than it is. Indeed, I consider it to be one of Miyazaki’s weakest, but that is really just a testament as to how amazingly superior these films are to other material in general, so a strong movie like this can be ranked that low on a list.