Review: The Studio Ghibli Collection
Retrospective Of Master Animator Hayao Miyazaki At Landmark
Thursday, January 3, 2013
KPBS film critic previews the Studio Ghibli Collection
Landmark Theatres presents a two-week long retrospective of Japanese animation called The Studio Ghibli Collection, and it offers a great opportunity to see the works of master animator and storyteller Hayao Miyazaki on the big screen.
Studio Ghibli is the Japanese animation studio co-founded by director and animator Hayao Miyazaki in 1985. The studio's logo features the character of Totoro, the endearing forest spirit made famous in Miyazaki's "My Neighbor Totoro."
The enormously rotund and furry creature is one of Miyazaki's signature creations, and he elicits squeals of delight not only from the little girl in the film but from generations of filmgoers as well. Miyazaki turns 72 this Saturday and insists on drawing animation on each of his films. But his worsening vision has made him threaten to retire each year. Yet it's precisely this devotion to the artistry of animation and his refusal to be distracted by new technology that makes his films timeless and rapturously beautiful. Each of Miyazaki’s frames is like a work of art, and the simplicity of the 2-D animation engages our imaginations in a way that computer generated imagery alone often fails to do. [Miyazaki does use CGI to enhance his hand drawn animation.]
Miyazaki has been dubbed the "Japanese Walt Disney" by the American media. The label is accurate in the sense that Miyazaki has built an animation empire and his films share a similar artistry to the early hand drawn Disney cartoons. But anime scholar Helen McCarthy rightly dismisses the label, suggesting instead that Miyazaki is "the Kurosawa of animation." She adds: "Not only does his work have the same rare combination of epic sweep and human sensitivity that the great live action director possessed, but it also fails to fit into any of the neat, child-sized boxes into which the west still tends to stuff the animated art form."
The Studio Ghibli Collection is a retrospective spanning a quarter century of films from 1984's "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" to 2009's "Ponyo."
"Ponyo" sets the differences between Disney and Miyazaki in bold relief since it's a loose adaptation of “The Little Mermaid.” Disney did it’s own adaptation of that Hans Christian Anderson tale but turned the story into a personal quest about following your dreams. Miyazaki’s take is more about acceptance and finding your place in the world, and doing so with the guidance of older generations. Plus, there's no real villain. And that's one of Miyazaki's strengths, a refusal to paint the world in black and white terms. Characters presented as evil don't always stay evil, and he often blurs the line between friend and foe, monster and human. This is especially true in his masterwork, "Princess Mononoke."
In this film a woman's desire for industrial progress threatens the balance of nature. We initially see her as evil but then come to find shadings that prompt us to re-evaluate our initial opinion. Miyazaki's ability to create well-rounded and surprising characters makes his films rich and worthy of multiple viewings.
Miyazaki's films -- which favor young, resourceful heroines -- boast a child’s wide-eyed view of the world. In "Howl's Moving Castle," the real and the magical exist side by side. So a man can walk on air, black blob-like henchmen can ooze out of walls, and spells are given out almost as readily as morning greetings. All of which are seen as common occurrences. Miyazaki's films open our eyes to the fact that anything is possible and nothing should be taken for granted. So in "Ponyo," waiting for a bowl of ramen to cook proves as wondrous a moment as a fish transforming into a child.
The Studio Ghibli collection focuses on the films directed by Miyazaki but also includes some classics that he produced. Among these are "The Cat Returns," about a young girl who ends up engaged to a feline prince, and the delightful "Pom Poko" about a society of raccoons threatened by land development.
But you can't go wrong with any of the films in the Studio Ghibli Collection because Miyazaki is a cinematic magician. I took a group of middle school boys used to violent video games and action films to a screening of "Howl's Moving Castle" in which the protagonist is an old lady. They were riveted to the screen, and that's the spell Miyazaki casts on audiences. He never goes for the conventional, and in defying formulas and expectations he ends up creating works that are broadly appealing yet rich and complex in their themes.
Please note that some films screen in English and some in Japanese with subtitles. Although Disney did a commendable job of dubbing the films when they picked them up for U.S. release, I highly recommend seeing them in Japanese.
At Landmark's La Jolla Village Theaters:
January 4: "Princess Mononoke" (1997)
January 5: "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (1984)
January 6: "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988) in English
January 7: "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004)
January 7: "Whisper of the Heart" (1995)
January 8: "Castle in the Sky" (1986)
January 8: "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989)
January 9: "The Cat Returns" (2002)
January 9: "Spirited Away" (2001)
January 10: "Ponyo" (2008) in English
January 10: "Porco Rosso" (1992)
At Landmark's Ken Cinema:
January 11: "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" (1984) at 2:00, 4:30, 7:00 and 9:30pm
January 12: "Princess Mononoke" (1997) at 1:45, 4:30, 7:15 and 10:00pm
January 13: "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989) at 2:30 and 7:15pm
January 13: "Pom Poko" (1994) at 4:45 and 9:30pm
January 14: "Porco Rosso" (1992) at 3:00 and 7:10pm
January 14: "My Neighbors the Yamadas" (1999) at 5:00 and 9:10pm
January 15: "Only Yesterday" (1991) at 2:15 and 7:00pm
January 15: "Castle in the Sky" (1986) at 4:30 and 9:15pm
January 16: "My Neighbor Totoro" (1988) at 1:30, 3:15, 5:00, 6:45 and 8:30pm
January 17: "Spirited Away" (2001) at 2:00 and 7:00pm
January 17: "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004) at 4:30 and 9:30pm