That Movie Book Week Thirty One

I was pretty excited about this weekend. I went through a phase of being a little obsessed with mainstream Japanese culture (funnily enough around the time I decided to learn Japanese at school), and this was a nice way to relive that. Plus I have a cold so I felt this was a good way to justify spending the weekend watching cartoons in my jammies. Apologies in advance, this post is probably going to be a long one.

This week’s theme was “Inside The Magical World Of Hayao Miyazaki”. That’s right, it was Ghibli week this week. I had seen two of the suggestions before, but all five films were ones I had been meaning to (re)watch for a while and hadn’t gotten around to it, so I figured this was as good a chance as any. I managed to watch all five films this week, but I started a day early in order to fit them all in. The book talked about the English dubbed versions, but I went all authentic with Japanese and subtitles.

I started on Thursday with Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s the often-told story of a girl who gets on the bad side of a huge fat blob of a witch and gets turned into an old lady. She then meets a wizard, Howl, and they both help each other out and fall in love or whatever.

This certainly was a Miyazaki film. There is a cutesy, wandering feel to the whole thing that is reminiscent of all the Ghibli films I’ve watched so far. There is the obvious distinction between good and bad visually; Howl (good guy) is tall and attractive and all the ladies love him, while the Witch of the Wastes (bad guy) is a huge, monstrous lady who gets stripped of her powers and if a fat ugly old lady. Fairly straight forward who you should be cheering for. Also being old doesn’t necessary equate to being bad; the King’s advisor is an old witch, but because she did ‘good’ things she wasn’t fat and ugly. If you are good you are pretty, and if you’re bad you’re ugly. It’s pretty simple stuff, which makes sense seeing as it’s essentially a kid’s movie.

There are some aspects I would have liked to have seen explored a bit more. Howl is shown as vain and shallow because he feels life isn’t worth living if you’re not attractive, but then miraculously gets over that and moves on. Then there’s the Lady Suliman, who was Howl’s mentor, what is up with all that? Also, why does Sophie keep changing back and forth between the old lady self and the original self? I would have liked a bit more explanation in those kinda of aspects. That being said, the film is very pretty. Very Pretty. This is something that Miyazaki seems to do quite well, that complex, detailed world that also looks really beautiful. It was nice enough, but didn’t really seem to grab me that much. It felt a little too young for me.


Next up was Spirited Away. A girl (Chihiro) is moving to a new town with her parents. They stop at a village and her parents get turned into pigs. She gets a job at the bath house in the village, specially for spirits, and tries to work out a way to get her parents back the way they were with the help of a boy (Haku) who also works there.

Now, cards on the table, I was pretty drugged up on cold and flu medication when I watched this. I had already seen it, years ago, so I knew the gist of what was going on, but I may have been paying less attention than usual seeing as I could barely keep my eyes open. That being said, I think I can safely say that I enjoyed it more than Howl’s Moving Castle. While the storyline was a bit more wandering than Howl, the world Spirited Away was setting was much more magical. The various spirit characters were really detailed and interesting, and all the colours and layers and music just made it feel like a really full movie. The story also was nice in that it showed Chihiro’s growth as a character, from the scared, whiny child to someone with confidence and willingness to stand up for what she believes in. It’s a clichéd story, but it was done in a nice way that I didn’t roll my eyes at it. It feels like Miyazaki learned over the years what he did well and improved as a result. I can see why this one won an Oscar when it came out. I really liked it.

Again, I wish there was more backstory. These characters are so complex that the glimpse you get in the films isn’t really enough to satisfy me and just left me with a lot of questions. What is a NoFace? Why was Haku working for Yubaba? Why was Yubaba’s sister really mean when you first meet her and then super nice when Chihiro goes out to see her? Why does she live so far away from her sister, anyway? What caused whatever falling out they had? What’s with the giant baby? It’s frustrating, y’know?


Next up was Laputa: Castle in the Sky. A girl with a magical pendant falls from an airship and meets a boy from a mining town. They decide to go on an adventure which takes them to a magical floating castle, Laputa, where they, uh, live happily ever after? I dunno, I didn’t get that far.

Not really that much of a fan of this one. It felt kinda clunky and overly cartoony, like the afternoon kids shows I used to watch when I was younger. Plus the art style wasn’t something I liked, even though it was pretty similar to other Miyazaki things I’ve watched, it was a little different and just looked like an older style and it was distracting. I got bored pretty quickly and stopped watching it before they even made it to Laputa. Sorry Miyazaki, but I just didn’t care enough to continue..


Then came My Neighbour Totoro. A family move into an old (slightly abandoned) house, and get settled while the Mother is in hospital. the two girls, Sachiko and Mei find a spirit-y being that they believe is Totoro, a troll, and they have magical adventures with him.

(sorry about the pathetic trailer; it was literally the best I could find that was able to be embedded in here.)

I have been meaning to see this for a while, seeing as sometimes I feel like the only person I know who hasn’t watched this already. It was a bit slow to start, but I was happy to watch it because I wanted to see Totoro. The voices of the children were kind of annoying, but I have watched anime with more irritating voices so it wasn’t too bad.

It was a pretty strange movie, though. Cute, for sure, but still really strange. I probably won’t watch it again, because I didn’t really find it that interesting. I don’t completely understand why people get so obsessed about it. Sure, Totoro and Catbus were cute, but not really enough to want to wear clothes with them on it and squee over Totoro merchandise in store. To each their own, I guess.


And finally I watched Princess Mononoke. A young man from a forest tribe is poisoned when a Boar God becomes a demon and goes on a rampage. The man, Ashitaka, leaves the village in search of a cure and an explanation for what happened to the Boar God. He encounters a town built around producing iron, and the head of that town who is set on destroying the nearby forest and killing all the creatures in it. Ashitaka runs to the forest and tries to get people and animals to live in peace, teaming up with the Wolf God and falling in love with her human daughter, San. There’s also the Spirit of the Forest, whose head is supposed to grant immortality or something. It gets a bit confusing after a while.

This was the first subtitled anime I remember watching. My brother borrowed it from a friend (on VHS, how old school!) who was into anime and wanted Rowan to be too. I  remember the strangeness of the subtitles, and the being confused by the story because I would only pay attention to it in burst and essentially had no idea what was going on most of the time. This is the only one I watched this time around in English; I remember reading about how the American producers worked closely with Miyazaki to make sure the English translation was a close as possible, so I figured it would be ok. But the way Americans pronounce Japanese works grates on me so much that I think it possibly ruined the film for me. I had other things that needed doing so I couldn’t change it to Japanese and sit and watch it straight, which meant I just struggled through to mangled pronunciation of names.

Also it seemed to drag on a bit too long. By the time we got to the big climax of the film I felt like it should have come half an hour earlier. There was a lot of build up and I had burnt out a little by the end of it. Plus it got a preachy. Ok, I get it, humans should try and get along with nature, not destroy it. You don’t need to hammer it home quite that much, alright? This grumpiness about the film is probably because I was movied out by this point. Five films in a weekend is definitely too much for me to handle, even though I didn’t watch much of Laputa. I’ll probably give Mononoke another go at some point, in Japanese, but at the moment I don’t want to watch anything for a while.


So, in summary, this weekend was a bit of a slog. I did like the majority of the films that were suggested, I will admit that freely. I was also just really glad that fuckin’ Ponyo wasn’t on the list, because that is a really weird, vaguely irritating film that I never want to watch ever again. Ben bought it for me as a joke for Christmas one year, and I forced him to sit down and watch it with me. We both decided at the end of it to put it away and leave it on the shelf as a reminder of Bad Decisions. it was definitely a lesson learned and hopefully never repeated. Next week is about living in the suburbs, we’ll se how I go with those ones, eh?

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