The post about movies

Everyone should see at least one Hayao Miyazaki movie.

If anime’s not really your cup of tea, you’ll still like his movies.  Although I suppose its technically anime (provided we are defining anime as an animated feature made in Japan), it bears little resemblance to the stereotypical anime offerings of blue hair, crazy poses, ridiculous situations, weirdly proportioned people etc.  Instead they are engrossing movies with realistic characters, great plot, and all around excellent movies.  (that is not to say that stereotypical anime can’t be excellent, its just that if you dislike these things in anime, they tend to hamper your ability to enjoy more universally liked things)

Movies would be very strange without music, and in HM movies the soundtracks are particularly excellent.  Listen to this piece from Princess Mononoke:

Not only is it beautiful, it’s appropriately creepy as well.  The composer, Joe Hisaishi, also makes good use of silences (e.g. fight sequences).  I love his use of piano, a somewhat underused instrument in movie soundtracks, I think.

I am always impressed that, when most studios are moving to CGI Hayao Miyazaki still hand draws his films (of course, with a team of animators, but the lack of CGI!).  And I must say, although I enjoyed Wall-E, I do miss traditional animation.  Animation which, in Miyazaki’s films, are detailed and a pleasure to look at, such as this image from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The portrayal of female characters is no less excellent.  Often the hero of the film, they tend to be independent, confident (or become so along the way) young women who, through their own abilities, reach a happy conclusion.  Nausicaa (in the picture above) is such a one.  Although she does have a love interest, he’s a secondary character who has very little bearing on her ultimate fate.

The female main characters also tend to collect an odd assortment of non-human friends along the way, such as: a giant baby that has since been magicked into a mouse, an animate scarecrow (no talking, but does a lot of hopping) and a monster called No Face.

Chihiro (Spirited Away) and her odd friends: three bouncing heads turned into a fly, a giant baby who is now a mouse, and No Face.

There are a billion other little quirks which set Mr. Miyazaki’s movies apart.  Environmentalist themes for one.  From the blatently obvious Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to the more subtle (i.e., not a central plot point) Spirited Away.  Miyazaki has been exploring man’s relationship with nature before it was really a huge world worry.

I have to mention The Cute as well.  Mei and the Totoros in My Neighbour Totoro, the soot-balls in Spirited Away, Ponyo’s cry of ‘HAAAAAAM!’ whenever that delicious meat is served, they are all amazingly adorable.

But perhaps, despite all this some might worry that the plots might be a little too weird, that they lack the cultural understanding to really love the movies.  I mean just what are Kodamas?

#1: Kodamas are adorable, #2: They appear in Princess Mononoke

I agree, at first these movies do seem a little odd.  I didn’t watch Spirited Away at first because the plot sounded too strange, and I like anime.  Yet, that doesn’t seem to matter.  Perhaps because the translations make allowances for a Western Audience (side note: the dubs for Miyazaki movies are all excellent.  Definitely not your usual tragically-abridged-plus-annoying-voices fare), or perhaps because the core stories tend to be so universal, the lack of cultural understanding doesn’t seem to matter.  In fact I like that the environment is so radically different than anything I’m used to.  It’s much more interesting

Take Howl’s Moving Castle.  As you may know, it was first a book by Diana Wynne Jones (and an excellent one at that).  The book and movie differ substantially, and it’s neither suffers for it.  I find that, after I read a book so many times, it loses a bit of its charm.  I still love it, but I don’t enjoy reading it quite so much as I used to even if it is a favourite.  The difference between the two was thus refreshing, as it is probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the same story twice for the first time.

Above all, I love the general feel of these movies.  Although there is a good deal of action in most of them, the pacing is fairly slow.  Often, there may be a fair bit going on and then you find yourself watching the characters ride a train, looking at the water, and doing nothing really.  The whole movie Whisper of the Heart is entirely these sorts of scenes with little action (no surprise, since it is slice of life genre).  By movie standards, not much happens.  This translates into movies which are just so peaceful.  I am often not on the edge of my seat, and it’s rather lovely.

I’ll leave you with a list of his movies (which I’ve seen, which is most of them), sort of in order of preference, but to be honest this list would probably be ordered differently had I made it yesterday, the day before and yet again the month before:

  • Princess Mononoke (English script written by Neil Gaiman, so you know it’s good)
  • Spirited Away (a bit of a deeper story than it first appears *link*)
  • Ponyo
  • The Cat Returns (Ok, so not actually a Hayao Miyazaki movie, but still Studio Ghibli)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle
  • My Neighbour Totoro (possibly a deeper story than you may think.  Warning: clicking the following link will forever change your view of this movie.  It will no longer be simply cute and joyful, but slightly horrifying and disturbing as well *link*)
  • Whisper of the Heart
  • Porco Rosso
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • Laputa: Castle in the Sky
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2 Comments on “The post about movies”

  1. risoncruik says:

    I am disappointed that Nausicaa is so far down on your list, it is probably in my top three at all times. Also, fun fact, one time my friend rented the Mononoke VHS when we were kids, and during a 7 day rental he watched it 13 times and I watched it 11 times. It was ridiculous. So, yeah, you can guess what my number one is always.

    • AH says:

      hmm. I don’t think Nausicaa would ever be in my top 3, but it could at the very least jump up two places to beat Whisper of the Heart and Porco Rosso. Then again, saying it’s one of my least favourite HM movies is like saying the 6th Harry Potter is one of my least favourite HP books: on the scale of all movies ever it is very high on my list of faves.

      I first watched Spirited Away on VHS when I was something like 13. It definitely became a repeat rental, although I probably only watched it once or twice in the week-long rental. It thus has some nostalgia behind it which means that it is sometimes my favourite.


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