This year saw the 25th anniversary of the simultaneous release of My NeighbourTortoro and Grave of the Fireflies; two very different films from Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.
This year saw the 25th anniversary of the simultaneous release of My NeighbourTortoro and Grave of the Fireflies; two very different films from Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. To celebrate this anniversary, I will be taking a little time to showcase some other Studio Ghibli releases which are easily accessible both online and in rental stores. With animation to rival Disney, Ghibli has reinvented storytelling. Forget the usual Prince and Princess defeat the dragon and get married, Ghibli’s productions are relevant, universal and challenging ensuring that films attracted all ages.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
This was the first film I saw by Studio Ghibli’s co-founder, and most prominent director, Hayao Miyazaki. This is a story which has the soul of a romantic epic, and its lavish tones, sweeping score and full-blooded characterisations give it the feel of one of cinema’s most beautiful works which hold an environmental message at their core.
The plot concentrates on the involvement of the outsider Ashitaka, last prince of the reclusive Emishi tribe, in the struggle between the supernatural guardians of the forest and the humans of Iron Town who consume its resources.
We begin with Ashitaka’s village being attacked by a demon, and before killing what is revealed to be a boar god who has had his body corrupted by an iron ball, Ashitaka has his right arm cursed by the corruption.
In order to find a cure for the curse upon his arm, Ashitaka is forced to leave his village and travel to the west where he hopes to also find out more about what caused the boar god to turn into a rampaging and hate-filled demon.
This film, simply put, is breathtaking! The story has a real force behind it, but Miyazaki still manages to deliver moments of sublime delicacy and heartbreaking tenderness. Visually this is my favourite of Miyazaki’s films – from the very opening frame, Miyazaki proves himself as nothing less than a total master of animation, and his team of animators can convey more imagination in 10 frames than George Lucas could do with three extra prequels in the Star Wars saga. This combination of intoxicating animation and a complex and powerful story work perfectly in balance.
Don’t think however that this is just a soppy kid’s story meant for toddlers – like all the work of Miyazaki there are action sequences which would put many a live feature to shame, with plenty of blood and some trademark limb-severing violence which we all expect, and enjoy, from anime.
Before we move on to the next film, I want to leave you with a fantastic piece of trivia connected with Princess Mononoke. Miramax Films, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, purchased the film’s distribution rights for North America following its huge success in the East. Miyazaki met with Harvey Weinstein, Miramax’s chairman, and Weinstein demanded that edits should be made to Princess Mononoke. In response, Weinstein was sent a katana with the message “No Cuts” engraved on the blade. The filmmaker’s wishes were inevitably respected.