Ghibli Month: Porco Rosso

Tsunderin: One upon a time many years ago, Adult Swim was hosting something they called the ‘month of Miyazaki’: a month of showing Miyazaki—I can’t remember if they threw in some Takahata to shake things up—films ass-early in the morning. I was bound and determined I was going to watch every single one. Every. One. I started out well, made it through Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, but the film that followed them just couldn’t keep my attention at all and I conked out.

Porco.Rosso.full.220032…Looking back, that wasn’t exactly impressive of me. Oh well, I’ve never been a hardcore movie watcher.

After giving it another shot though, I’ve found that Porco Rosso has really grown on me. Perhaps the reason I didn’t like it was because of the deeper intricacies that went right over the head of younger me or the fact that it didn’t star someone particularly likable (not as likable as Miyazaki’s previous heroines/heroes, at least). Or maybe it was because it starred a pig, because seriously, what would even make you think of that?

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Ghibli Month: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kikis Delivery Service Kiki TomboTsunderin: Realizing that he must have hit a sweet spot with his previous small-scope, through the eyes of a child film, Miyazaki once more set forth to capture another important point in everyone’s lives through his next film, Kiki’s Delivery Service. The target this time: coming of age. It can of course be argued that Castle in the Sky was also a coming of age story, but that part of the plot was overshadowed by a larger storyline as opposed to Kiki’s. Success of such things either relies on a series of stories in which the characters have a chance to grow slowly and more robustly, or a narrow focus. Again, Miyazaki chose to go with the latter.

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Ghibli Month: My Neighbor Totoro

Tsunderin: Soooo yeah, as you can probably tell this definitely is not Grave of the Fireflies. It fact, it may even be its polar opposite. If you were looking forward to reading our review of the World War 2 tragedy, I apologize. Luckily for you, Ace has already written a piece on the film, so all is not lost!

As much as the film is beautiful and for all the impact and wonderful storytelling Isao Takahata gives us, there’s just a certain amount of emotion one has to be willing to expend when preparing to watch this movie. I think many people will agree with me in saying that Grave of the Fireflies is an important movie, a movie that everyone should see, but it’s difficult to watch it more than once. As someone who’s seen it twice, I think I’ve reached my quota of watching children starve to death.

my neighbor totoroSo let’s move on to something a little more lighthearted and more expressive about the joys of childhood, instead. Yes, it’s My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro), and if you know anything about me, know this: I fucking love Totoro. So does Ace. In fact, while Ace and I were both studying abroad in Japan we managed to find our way into a Ghibli store and met with the largest stuffed Totoro I’ve ever seen (she would have bought it, too, if not for the fact it wouldn’t have fit on the plane home). In short, this is the movie I was warning you for regarding concerns of our nostalgia getting the better of us.

Of course, even if you haven’t seen the film before, it would be difficult to not feel some sense of nostalgia for it as every aspect of the film works its hardest to portray a sense of comfort, a sense of safety that makes people long for the ‘good old days’.

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Ghibli Month: Castle in the Sky

Tsunderin: After being critically underwhelmed by Nausicaa both story-wise and character-wise, I can’t exactly say I had high hopes for the next movie: the first movie the studio put out under the Ghibli name, Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Maybe it was something about the timing, a thought of mine that their golden era would have to wait until the 90’s to come shining through. I’m more than pleased to report that I was incorrect in this assumption. I loved this movie (though I’m a little disappointed that it took me this long to get around to watching it).

Castle in the SkyAlthough this movie and Nausicaa share a similar starting scene—someone is in danger of losing their life, but doesn’t through miraculous circumstances—that’s about where the similarities end. Sheeta, our protagonist who has just fallen from an airship while escaping her captors, ends up in a small mining town and in the care of a young miner boy, Pazu. Understandably, Pazu is interested in the amulet Sheeta wears as he’s quite certain that it was the one thing standing between Sheeta and a rather messy end; however, she immediately becomes entranced by his father’s photograph of a distant place: the kingdom of Laputa. The mythical castle is the sky is just that to most people, a myth, but Pazu knows that his father wasn’t lying (the picture’s right there, come on) and works tirelessly on creating a plane that will take him to the one place that will bring honor back on the memory of his father.

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Ghibli Month: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Tsunderin: In recent years, Studio Ghibli has become one of the major players in the American animation circuit after getting picked up by Disney, and why shouldn’t they? Their films are for the most part innovative, have great characterization, and are just plain lovely to look at. There’s a certain charm to them that cannot be defined as belonging solely to animation’s realm nor to the Japanese culture—though there are several Ghibli movies that deal solely with Japaneseness. Instead, they transcend to their own setting with their own fanciful, but still relatable and realistic stories. With movies from American cinema attempting to expand into more female-centric stories but at a stand-still with how they should proceed, and those efforts receiving general confusion and even negativity from the movie critical audience at large (Brave anyone?), what is it that we as a film- and entertainment-devouring culture can take from the popular and largely female-centric stories released from Ghibli?

In attempts to answer this question and many others—but mostly because we just felt like it—Ace and I have dedicated this month, and probably part of the following month as well, to examining all of the Ghibli films: the dubbed and the subbed, the Miyazaki and the Takahata, the Disney and the… not Disney. If there’s anything you think we should discuss in a certain film or something you think we missed, leave us a comment. We love Ghibli and their movies and we hope that you, dear reader, can get excited about them as well.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the WindWhereas many of these films are both a big part of Ace’s and my (but mostly Ace’s) childhoods, I have to admit that I’d never seen our first movie. I’ll probably have to turn in my anime fan badge, but this is my first time watching Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Technically, this movie shouldn’t even be in this series of articles since it was created before the founding of Ghibli earnest, but fuck it; it’s well known enough and associated with the studio enough that it would be negligent to pass it by.

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Saving the Environment and Geekdom

When it comes to geeks trying to save the planet, things can get complicated. It either tends to be really heavy-handed and naïve or to demonize anything involving saving the planet.

The big conflict is often between saving the environment and the march of progress, and many stories tend to proclaim one as good while demonizing the other, which is obviously problematic.

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Ghibli in 2013: Returning to Their Roots

Christmas came early for me, it seems: yesterday while browsing Tumblr I discovered that Studio Ghibli has announced both of their movies for the 2013 season and both of them have so much potential. Both of them also hold the distinct trademarks of the two well-known directors that have presented us with such beautiful and thought-provoking films in the past.

From Isao Takahata’s branch we have Kaguya-hime no Monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya). Perhaps better known under the title The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, the movie seems to be a traditional re-telling of the old tale. Takahata’s style definitely takes traditional Japanese notions and brings them to a modern audience in an act that always came off to me as a desire for his audience not to forget where they came from. In terms of people at Ghibli, Takahata is the one that I would trust most with a story like this since and if the art style on the movie poster is any indication on how the movie will be animated, this film is going to be just gorgeous.

From the other side of Ghibli, we have Hayao Miyazaki’s newest venture,

Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises). From what I’ve been able to find on this movie so far, it seems as though it’s based on the life of one Jiro Horikoshi, a fighter plane designer. Any fan of Ghilbi movies should recognize the resemblance to one of Miyazaki’s earlier films, Porco Rosso, and I can only hope that it will be just as charming.

Although there’s little information out on either right now, I’m excited to see the progress and reception of these films into the New Year.

Manga Mondays: Grave of the Fireflies

I trust Miyazaki. I trust that he will deliver a wonderful story that always has a hidden meaning. I trust that that story will be well executed. I trust that the animation will be superb. And I trust that the characters will be well-developed.

I do not trust that his stories won’t send me into uncontrollable sobbing fits.

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Theatre Thursdays: Princess Mononoke, the play?

According to Crunchyroll and a number of other outlets, the classic Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke is being adapted for the stage in London by the Whole Hog Theatre company. In keeping with the ecological themes of the movie, the puppets used to portray the various nature deities will be made of recycled material. Although I’ve pointed out my opinion on the use of puppets in theatre before, hope springs eternal. If I had some way to get to London to see this next April, I’d be all over that.

(Via Crunchyroll)

Manga Mondays: Spirited Away

You know who I love? Miyazaki Hayao! Or Hayao Miyazaki, depending on whichever one you prefer. His works have been a part of me since as long as I can remember. Seriously, at this point in my life, I could probably recite the whole script of Totoro in both English and Japanese, as well as sing the songs. The opening song Tsunderin and I like to sing to each other when hiking down the street, if only because the lyrics fit in with our current actions.

Hey, let’s go! Hey, let’s go!

I’m happy as can be!

Let’s go walking, you and me.

Ready, set, come on, let’s go!

Yes, we’re nerds, and the oddest things entertain us. I realize this. Welcome to my life.

Anyway, not all of Miyazaki’s works have that big an impact on me, but some of them do get very close, and all of them have some underlying theme or message that may be hard for westerners to pick up on easily. This leads me into Spirited Away, a fantasy adventure film that came out in 2001 and was originally titled 千と千尋の神隠し, which translates to The Spiriting Away of Sen and Chihiro. The original title is interesting to me, because it implies that Sen and Tihiro are two different people, and in some ways they are.

Before we go on any further, I take this time to apologize for my weird Romanization of Japanese words. I was not trained on the Hepburn system—which I know means nothing to most of you—but I honestly cannot read it, and it kills my soul. You have no idea how much it pains me to write Tsunderin’s name as Tsunderin, so I will do my best to not confuse the hell out of you guys.

So our main protagonist for the film is Tihiro (Hepburn: Chihiro), a young girl who is moving to a new home with her parents. They get lost and find themselves in the Spirit World. Tihiro’s parents are turned into pigs by Yubaba, the owner of a large bathhouse within the Spirit World. Thus, Tihiro eventually finds herself under Yubaba’s employ while she works for a way to save her parents before they’re slaughtered.

Due to the setting, Spirited Away expresses many Sintou (Hepburn: Shinto—I’m not sorry I’m doing this to you, damn it!) beliefs. And it does this through the loss of its characters’ identities, or even just the loss of something they used to have but need to gain back. Here are just a few examples of characters that lose themselves.

  • Tihiro’s parents turn into pigs because they eat the food in the Spirit World
  • No Face transforms into a monster
  • Yubaba’s baby, Bou, becomes a mouse
  • Kohaku-gawa, the god of Kohaku River, loses his home when it dries up and apartment complexes are built where it used to be, so he takes on the name Haku under Yubaba’s employ

In a sense, Spirited Away is a magical tale based on Sintou beliefs about the struggles of regaining oneself. One Sintou belief is a concern with cleanliness, something Bou represents in his fear of germs, but what the Stink Spirit emphasizes even more through its pollution. Water itself plays a major role in the movie—hence the bathhouse—and commonly recurs throughout all this loss.

Probably the most obvious display of loss comes from Tihiro herself. Spirited Away begins with Tihiro in the backseat of her parents’ car, sitting alone and clutching a bouquet her old classmates have given her as a farewell gift. She is sad because she’s moving out to the country and leaving behind her old life. Once she and her parents accidentally end up in the Spirit World, she has to watch in horror as both her mother and father are turned into pigs. Until she manages to save them and when she applies for work under Yubaba at the bathhouse, she must also take on the name of Sen.

Unfortunately, throughout the course of the movie, her memories of her real name and old self slowly dissipate overtime, and all she has to hold onto who she used to be is the farewell card from her old classmates on her bouquet.

So not only does Tihiro have to remember who she is in order to gain her freedom, she has to remember who her parents are, or she’ll lose everything forever. In a way, Tihiro is what we would call a Mizuko, translated to ‘water child.’ Let me explain.

In Shintoism—damn it, it hurts!—when children are born, their names are added to a list at a shrine. These children are called Uziko (shrine parishioner), and when they die they become Uzigami (Sintou god or patron god). I’m sorry that I’m just bombarding you with Japanese words here, but you don’t really need to remember these. Just know that they have special names for children who are on the list at Sintou shrines—and you should all probably be informed that if you know any practitioners, your name is probably in a shrine somewhere too. They don’t actually need to ask your permission or tell you about it.

So we all might be Uziko! How does it feel? Yeah, I know that you don’t care….

Anyway, if a child dies before his or her name is added to the list, that child is called a Mizuko, which is what Tihiro is now. Often times, Mizuko are seen as troublemakers filled with great anger or grief and worshiped in hopes of stilling these strong emotions. It’s pretty safe to say that Tihiro isn’t worshipped in Spirited Away, but even though Tihiro’s still alive, albeit sad given her circumstances, she is now called Sen, and she almost forgets her true name, while simultaneously causing trouble for Yubaba—either just by smelling like a human, which upsets the other workers, or by letting No Face into the bathhouse, where he starts eating people. So you can interpret this however you want, but despite Tihiro being technically not dead, I thought the movie was making comparisons to her and the idea of Mizuko.

And keeping in mind that Mizuko means ‘water child’ and that Sintou has a lot to do with cleanliness, this only furthers my belief in this regard. Tihiro has a strong connection to water, and one method of purification is standing underneath a waterfall. At the bathhouse, when Tihiro helps the Stink Spirit, the water pours into the bathtub much like a waterfall would, and as she pulls the trash from the spirit, she stands within the torrent. Even afterward, when the spirit thanks her, water still comes down upon them. Furthermore, near the end of the movie, she takes a train to talk to Yubaba’s sister, Zeniba. The train actually runs through what looks like a very shallow ocean. On top of all this, when Tihiro is younger, she almost drowns in the Kohaku River, but is saved by Kohaku-gawa.

Though water is associated with cleanliness, it does play a part in Tihiro’s loss. When she first tries to escape from the Spirit World, a large river has cut off her way, separating her from the real world. During the train scene, she is surrounded by what look to be real people who might be in the real world, but appear as spirits to her because she’s not. Just about all the train stops are surrounded by water and nothing else, but the other passengers still come and go from them, further emphasizing that that just might be the real world, which she can’t get to.

So I don’t want to make this post just a lesson on religion, but there is a lot of it in this movie; however, because of how easy it is to interpret this film from a more religious perspective, it’s also a little easy to read too much into it. Hell, I’ve probably done that to an extent in this post already, but I know there are some people out there who have even said that Spirited Away deals a lot with Japanese mythology.

For example: at the beginning of the movie, Tihiro and her parents have to walk through a tunnel with a large stone placed in front of it to even get to the Spirit World. At one point in mythology, the sun goddess, Amaterasu, hides herself in a cave and pulls a large rock over the entrance. Yeah, this last point was brought to my attention by a professor Tsunderin and I both had when we studied abroad. As I said, it’s probably not wrong to read too much into this film from a religious perspective, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sound ridiculous. Tsunderin and I aptly named this man The God of All Knowledge.

You see, it is really easy to look for something that isn’t there, because Miyazaki also likes to put his own spin on things. A lot of superstitions appear that have nothing to do with religion. At a scene early on, Haku turns Tihiro invisible, and at one point they have to walk over a bridge. But for whatever reason, the spell won’t work on a bridge unless she holds her breath. This is something Miyazaki made up. Also, I know people out there have wondered what the significance of mythological creatures in his films using lily pads for umbrellas is for. Again, it’s just something he came up with. As a director, he can pull his theme or background from anywhere, but that doesn’t mean he’s creatively bankrupt—unless we’re talking about the Secret World of Arrietty.

Hell, one of the more prominent settings in Spirit Away was based off this room right here:

You can find this room in the Open Air Architectural Museum near Tiba (Hepburn: Chiba). Many of the buildings in Spirited Away are based off the buildings in this museum, and if I remember correctly, none of them are shrines. For instance, the bathhouse was more than likely based off this:

And even the bar where Tihiro’s parents are turned to pigs has a lookalike in this museum; however, I can’t find my photo of it right now.

So it does stand to reason that there would be many things in this movie that have nothing to do with Sintou beliefs. At one point in time, Tihiro needs to get something called the golden seal, and it’s protected by a little black slug thing. She squashes it with her bare foot, and though it leads back to Sintou beliefs when the other characters think she’s defiled and needs cleansed, the cure to this is the equivalent of a Japanese Cootie shot.

But even though I spent most of this post talking about Uziko and Mizuko and whatnot, if only because it’s relevant to the film, you don’t need to know much about Japanese mythology or Sintou beliefs to understand this movie. I know a lot of people growing up in school that simply didn’t understand it, but all in all, this is a great movie. It’s just so colorful and it has such a passion behind it; this is definitely one of Miyazaki’s better films. I would check it out if I were you.

Also, I’m not an expert on Sintou beliefs, so if any of you noticed something I said and think it might be wrong, feel free to correct me.