Monday, June 13, 2005

Hayao Miyazaki: Gravity and Animation

Miyazaki's movies have a much different tempo than the in-your-face American cartoons with vocals by ... jabbering showbiz personalities. (The main characters of Robots couldn't take a walk across town without it turning into a brain-rattling spectacle.) It's not that Miyazaki's work is static. It's that everything has its proper weight. David Edelstein reviews the new Hayao Miyazaki film, Howl's Moving Castle (emphasis mine)

Most Japanese anime qualifies as little more than a personal curiosity. Anime franchises from Pokemon to Akira recklessly plunder the mythologies of the world (or their Cliff's Notes versions) for images and characters, give them a little tweaking, then hurl them into a pal-mal storyline. The result is a spicy, but nutrient-free, soupstock. Miyazaki's stuff, on the other hand, is spellbinding and unforgettable - it sticks to the ribs.

Miyazaki also plunders, but he seems to store his loot in a deep subconscious cellar, where he lets it mutate and mature before revealing it to the public. Nothing is displayed without due consideration of its true emotional impact on his characters, and on the audience. As a result, a sunny entertainment like Kiki's Delivery Service (my personal favourite) literally flies with emotional grandeur; surreal tales like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro disturb and comfort on a profoundly sublime level.

This sort of attention to detail - to its weight - is powerfully rewarding on the big screen and invites multiple viewings on the little screen at home (the DVD subtitles and the original Japanese vocals are always a delightful revelation best enjoyed after you've become familiar with the American dub-over). It's too much to ask American animators (and their studio creditors) to invest their work with deeper emotions like rage and resolve. But if Pixar's financial success is any indication (Toy Story and Monster's Inc. being two of its heftier offerings), even the slightest acknowledgment of emotional weight is welcomed by audiences.


F.C. Bearded said...

Having been reared on "Marine Boy" and it's wide-eyed chirpy counterparts, I've more or less avoided Anime as much as I can - despite the fact that my kids buy the comic books that must be read back-to-front.

Until I watched "Kill Bill Vol. 1", oddly enough, which features a rather good Anime segment. Or maybe I'm applying the wrong nomenclature to it?

Either way, it was good.

Whisky Prajer said...

No, the cartoon bits in KB1 were the real deal, alright. A similar cross-cultural exercise was the Animatrix DVD, which wound up being more entertaining than the movie it was meant to introduce.

Whisky Prajer said...

I should add that if you go into a Miyazaki film expecting samurai swordplay and curtains of blood, you will be terribly disappointed!

Tom said...

Not sure if this came thru on Stay Home Daddy-O, but it needs to be shared here too.

Happy 40th Birthday, ya old fart!

much love,

Whisky Prajer said...

Whoa! Talk about paying attention to weight! Maybe when I'm 42?

Thanks, Tom!