The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

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“Arrietty, you’re a part of me now. I’ll never forget you, ever.” – Sho (Shawn)

I have oh so many thoughts on this movie. Mostly good, but also just… blah. I never saw it in theaters but wanted to. Somehow, I never got around to it. But I bought it anyway, because it’s Miyazaki, right? Actually… no. It’s Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki did help write it, but he did not direct it. That’s right – this is the first Ghibli movie I own that is NOT directed by the man himself.

I look at this as more of a bridge piece for Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki’s final movie as a director, The Wind Rises, is set for theaters in 2014 (it’s of course already been released in Japan). He’s stepping down from the studio he helped create, but to my understanding will still be helping write and animate movies. Enter Hiromasa Yonebayashi. He has been a key animator at Ghibli for years, and this movie is his directorial debut. I’m seeing this man as the one who will be handed the reins of Ghibli (other than Isao Takahata, who of course is important – he just hasn’t done many movies recently – although he’s doing Kaguya-hime next year, YAY!). I have to say I’m a bit worried, but if Miyazaki has faith in him (Yonebayashi IS set to direct Porco Rosso 2, and we know how personal that movie is for Miyazaki), then I do too. If this movie is all I have to judge him on, I have to say he’s on his way to greatness; He needs to learn a few things, and people are just going to have to get over that he’s not Miyazaki, but I foresee good things in this man’s future.

Arrietty is a movie with characters that, at least to me, were already well known: the borrowers. Originally a children’s novel published in 1952 and written by Mary Norton, it spawned four sequels, the latest being published in the 1980s. The stories all focused around a family of borrowers, or small, 6-inch tall people who live in the walls of houses and “borrow” items from the human beings in the house in which they live.

The movie follows not only the idea of the borrowers, but the general plot. The character names are also the same. Arrietty is a borrower, about 14 years old, who lives in a country house in Japan. Along with her father, Pod, and her mother, Homily, they stay out of sight and go “borrow” things that they need that the humans will not miss. In the movie, Arrietty goes out on her first night borrowing and is seen by Shawn, a human boy who has just arrived at the house (we learn he is there to relax before he undergoes operation for his heart). Arrietty feels strangely drawn to the boy, but her parents warn her that once a human sees a borrower, only trouble can ensue.

This proves to be true, not from Shawn, but from the woman who lives in the house (is she a landlord? housekeeper? I’m still kinda not sure). There are some adventures, Arrietty can’t stay away from Shawn, and a strange friendship begins. But it’s not enough. His curiosity and want to help them bring the lady on a mad dash for the little people, and eventually the family has to move from the house to a different one.

The plot is simple. There’s obviously more details, but you’d be better to just watch the movie than for me to explain them. The big thing with this movie is the characters and this world that the borrowers live in. I think that’s part of the reason the books were so popular and why people are so drawn to fantasy stories like this. It’s fun to see what types of things the borrowers use in their home. It’s fun to see how they get around inside the walls. A mouse or a cricket to them is a huge monster. A patch of grass is a jungle. It’s fun to see our world portrayed from a completely different perspective, and that’s one thing this movie does very well.

I wouldn’t have been done well, though, if the detail weren’t as it is. I have gone on and on about detail in Miyazaki movies. But oh dear sweet lord this movie takes the cake. The detail in this movie is AMAZING. Because everything in our world is essentially blown up, the animators didn’t leave anything to the imagination: we see the grains of the wood. We get that to Arrietty and her father, a harmless, light tissue is incredibly heavy and stiff. Every detail is as you would expect it to be if you took a magnifying glass to the things in your house. It’s incredible.

What’s also incredible is how the borrowers get around in this world. there’s contraptions set up inside the walls, with ropes, pulleys, stairs out of nails, etc. Pieces of wall move ever so slightly to allow them into a room. tiny cracks serve as doorways. Pod has knives that come out of his shoes to help him climb. They use pieces of tape (which look incredibly thick to them) to climb up cabinets. I think a lot of kids and adults can find themselves engrossed in this movie because how cool would it be to be a tiny person in a giant’s house??

The world of the borrowers is the real draw to this movie. The characters are… ok. The only one that is really developed is Arrietty, and honestly, she is so good it almost makes me sad that more characters didn’t get more developed in this movie. If they made her so awesome, it was in their ability to make the others awesome as well.

Arrietty is, to put it simply, a confident teenage girl who just wants to be treated like an adult, but at the same time respects her parents and understands the rules of their lives. At the same time, she’s incredibly curious. She’s just starting to experience this world that she lives in, and everything about it that she’s not seen before is so exciting she has to experience it NOW. She almost reminds me a bit of Kiki, but not so gung ho about work. She enjoys her life, and is fine with remaining a kid, but wants to go on the adventures with her father because that just seems to be her personality.

Her dealings with Shawn are very confusing, but at the same time, they are very real. She first realizes he saw her when she’s with her father getting a tissue, and she sees him in his bed with his eyes open and trained on her. She paralyzes with fear and drops the sugar cubes she had in her bag. The next day, he returns them on a stoop by where she enters and exits into the yard. You can feel the conflict within her whether to take them or not. She’s curious, but taking them would mean she’s admitting her existence as well as her trust in him. Her family tells her not taking them is what to do, and she doesn’t. It could have ended there. But Arrietty is so curious and drawn to this boy that she ends up scaling the house to his bedroom window to talk to him. A crow attacks, and he intervenes to save her.

This is almost when she understands that he’s not like the others. But it doesn’t mean that she’ll go full on into friendship with him. The entire movie, it’s still very stand-offish. They have this connection but you can’t get too close, because it’s a rule, and she respects that. Shawn does prove his worth, though, when he rescues her mother after getting caught, and allows them to travel to safety.

Arrietty is such a good, charming character that it makes me sad that Shawn isn’t. I understand why they didn’t develop him a ton: he’s sick, doesn’t have much energy, and is about to undergo an operation to his heart. He’s a kid that’s almost lost everything, and maybe i’m reading “lack of character” wrong. Maybe he’s depressed. Being in a new place with no friends going through what he’s about to go through can’t be easy, and meeting Arrietty almost gives him hope, as well as makes him realize that he can be important and helpful. I think the thing that bugs me about him is that his character is almost left up to the viewer’s ideas. We don’t really know much about him except for what I just said. He’s an ok character, but I feel as if there’s a lot to him we don’t know; the he could have been a bigger character and a better character and still not taken anything away from the focus of Arrietty. I almost would have liked them to get closer. We feel a connection, but it’s not as realized as I feel it could have been. It’s not the connection you get with other Ghibli movies.

the only other characters we get to know are Arrietty’s parents, Pod and Homily, the crazy woman who lives in the house, Hara, and another “savage” borrower who helps them escape, Spiller. Arrietty’s parents are pretty good. Voiced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, they’re secondary characters and work well. Pod is strong and silent, and Homily is a bit more animated and worried about safety and the human beings. As a couple, they balance each other out nicely. Hara is the woman who goes to all lengths to prove the borrower’s existence. She acts as our antagonist, and she is a bit crazy. It’s fun to watch them outsmart her. Spiller is a borrower that lives in the “wilds” and not in a house. He’s a man of few words, and acts as sort of?? a love interest? I don’t know, it’s almost as if he’s who Arrietty’s parents wish she’d spend time with. He’s barely in the movie so it’s a bit weird, but maybe they’re planning on making more of these. Dunno.

I know that this is just a movie that’s mainly for kids, and mainly just about showing us the world and showing us what happens to borrowers when they’re seen. I know it’s about that all human’s aren’t evil, but some are. But I don’t know… I finish watching this movie and I just feel…. eh. I feel like nothing happened. It was fun watching it, but I wanted more. I wanted more of the characters. I wanted more of Arrietty and Shawn. It ends, and it’s meant to be this sad goodbye between the two, and you just don’t feel it. I know she taught him not to be afraid, but I want to feel that he learned that. I want to feel that he’s going to miss her. You feel so much in other Ghibli movies. This one has the workings of one, but it’s missing the emotion. It’s missing something with the connection. And it kills me. Because this movie IS good… but it could have been great.

I have one more thing that REALLY bugs me. I don’t know why, but the US version randomly changed the names of some of the characters. Arrietty, Pod, Homily, and Spiller are fine. They’re from the book. But it’s almost like with the US dub, they wanted to try and set this in europe, NOT in Japan, when clearly, this is Japan. They changed the name of the boy from Sho to Shawn and Haru into Hara. WHY????? This is something that really bugs me. This is a JAPANESE movie. It’s SET IN JAPAN. WHY DID YOU CHANGE THE NAMES???? It’s not like people aren’t used to Japanese names from Ghibli: we have Chihiro, Haku, Sosuke, Ponyo, Satsuki, Ashitaka, etc. Seriously. Why the need to change the names Disney?? I actually get mad over this, because I feel like it’s not giving the movie the respect it deserves. It comes from an animation studio that rivals Disney itself and even Pixar. They know that these movies are great. Why mess with it and change something so trivial as names? just to make it more marketable? those aren’t even major characters. they (meaning those at Ghibli as well as Disney) didn’t touch the names of the major characters. Why change random supporting characters to more western sounding names? ugh. I’ll never understand. I think it’s stupid and pointless.

My rant is over, and I apologize. Arrietty is a movie I would say that is worth watching. Is it perfect? no. But you also have to remember it’s not Miyazaki. It’s hard not to compare, but different directors bring different things to movies. It’s still incredibly charming and introduces us to a world familiar but at the same time foreign. I hate to say it, but I almost hope we see more of the borrowers from Ghibli. I would love to see more of her and get more from her family. Definitely a good kid movie.

I give The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) a 3.2 out of 5. Charming, but has its flaws.

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This review wraps up my Ghibli/Miyazaki movies. I really had a blast watching these all again, and reviewing these were among my favorites to write about because they all have so much going for them. I’m hoping this is what my reviews will be like when I do Disney or Pixar. I’m an animation nerd and I’m not afraid to flaunt it.

At the beginning of my Miyazaki movies I ranked them how I thought I would with the reviews. I’m now going to rank them based on what I actually gave them score wise. This should be interesting.

1. Princess Mononoke & My Neighbor Totoro (5 out of 5)
2. Spirited Away (4.8 out of 5)
3. Porco Rosso (4.2 out of 5)
4. Castle in the Sky & Howl’s Moving Castle (4 out of 5)
5. Ponyo & Kiki’s Delivery Service (3.5 out of 5)
6. The Secret World of Arrietty & Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (3.2 out of 5)

Not gonna lie, I’m surprised. Apparently I give the same score to lots of movies, but based on them, I actually agree with this, movie wise. Below is how I ranked them before I reviewed them, strictly on how I, personally, like them:

1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
3. Castle in the Sky (1986)
4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
5. Spirited Away (2001)
6. Porco Rosso (1992)
7. Ponyo (2008)
8. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – technically not Studio Ghibli)
9. The Secret World of Arriety (2010)
10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Watch them if you haven’t. If you’ve never watched any Miyazaki movies or hate the idea of watching “anime,” please reconsider. I am not, by any means, an anime person. These movies are SO different. every one of them is worth watching the same way every pixar movie is worth watching.

Next I’ll be delving into my Christmas/Holiday movies for the season. And what better way to start than with a transitional movie!

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Princess Mononoke (1997)

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“There’s a demon inside you. It’s inside of both of you” – Ashitaka

 

“These days, there are angry ghosts all around us – dead from wars, sickness, starvation – and nobody cares. So you say you’re under a curse? So what? So’s the whole damn world.” – Jigo

This review is going to be the death of me. I started writing it before Totoro, and I still can’t get it right. This is my third time starting it. By the time I post it, who knows how much of the original review will still be standing. 

 Why am I putting so much time and effort into this review? Because I LOVE this movie. I respect this movie. It is perfect. It was such an important movie to Miyazaki, and it was his self-proclaimed masterpiece (he was actually planning to retire in 1997 after this movie – thank goodness he didn’t!). You can see the love, detail, and time that went into this movie. I’m taking so much time on this review because I want to do this movie justice; it deserves that. Even then, I’m afraid what I have to say won’t be enough. 

 Mononoke is Miyazaki’s environmental epic masterpiece. This movie did what Nausicaa couldn’t. It took all his ideas that he had spent years exploring and turned it into an amazing movie with beautiful animation, complex characters, messages that aren’t completely in your face, and a plot that is as complex and beautiful as everything in it. 

 Before I discuss the plot, I want to explain a bit of historical context, because it is actually important in this movie. You can still watch it without knowing these things, but knowing a bit of Japan history adds to the realness of this movie and might help you understand motivations of some of the characters a bit more completely. This movie is set in feudal japan (the Muromachi period to be exact: 1337-1573; probably near the beginning) at a time when the emperor was beginning to have an influence over the people, industry was taking over, and the native tribes of Japan were being integrated into the general population or hunted to extinction. Although this stuff is mentioned in the movie, you’d have to be at least knowledgeable in Japanese history to recognize the names and the time frames people are talking about.

 Very simply put, this movie centers around our protagonist, Ashitaka, as he tries to undo a curse that has been put on him by one of the Boar Gods (turned Demon) of the old forests. To do this, he must travel to the old forest to the west, where the Boar God (named Nago) was “infected” and plea to the forest spirit to lift his curse before it destroys his body and his soul. Once he travels there, he finds himself in the middle of a raging feud between an industrial settlement called Irontown and the old Gods of the forest and their human “child” San. He finds himself straddling both sides, all the while attempting to rid himself of the curse that is slowly taking over his body. The hatred between the two sides rises into a full on battle, and there’s a plot to kill the forest spirit and bring his head back to the Emperor. 

 The plot, for the most part, seems pretty straight forward, and to a point, it is. But at the same time, it’s extremely complicated, because there are all these characters, and each of these characters wants something so badly. There’s more going on then the stuff in the big central plot, but to be honest if I explained EVERYTHING this review would be so incredibly long. I could explain every little part of the plot, and the plot itself would last about three pages. I would love to do that, but it detracts from what this movie is really about.

 I will say this only once: This is NOT a children’s movie. This is very much an adult movie. It’s bloody, violent, deep, and as a kid, you wouldn’t understand much of it. The first time I saw this movie I was a teenager, and I still didn’t quite “get” it. I pick more out of it every time I watch it, and I love it the more I watch it. 

 I’m going to start by talking about our characters. This movie has no shortage of extremely deep, complex, intriguing characters. What I find the most interesting in this movie from Miyazaki’s others is that while there are arguably villains and “good guys,” the line between them is very fine. In the beginning of the movie, you go “oh ok, I know what’s gonna happen – she’s going to be our villain.” and it’s true… to a point. As the movie progresses, you realize that everyone is a villain and everyone at the same time is not. Miyazaki managed to paint humanity realistically instead of ideally. They’re just all people trying to survive: pushed to the brinks to do what they have to do to stay alive. Every character in this movie has good qualities and bad – even our “villain.” So here we go. This is going to be fun.

 Our protagonist, as I mentioned before, is Ashitaka. He is the last prince of the Emishi people, a tribe that will eventually die out. He rides a red deer named Yakul, and when the God turned Demon Boar Nago attacks his village, he attempts to calm it first before he will kill it. He speaks throughout the movie with respect for the forest and for the Gods, but at the same time, when he is in irontown, he does not judge those that are there (except maybe their leader Lady Eboshi – we’ll talk about her next). I must admit that he does act selfishly during the film, but it’s understandable – he’s trying to rid himself of a curse that will kill him. He is hesitant to involve himself in either side of the feud, instead attempting to do what he came there to do: “See with eyes unclouded with hate.” As the movie progresses, it’s even a sort of running conundrum with the other characters, as they typically remark “just what side is he on anyway?” Ashitaka is on no one’s side. he’s on his own. He’s doing what he can to survive, and doing what he can to attempt to teach others about hate while trying to get the curse lifted. In the english version he’s voiced by Billy Crudup, who I think does an amazing job. He delivers every line with anguish and conviction. By the end of the movie he’s tired, and it easily comes through. He’s great, and the character is great and very interesting.

 Next I want to talk about Lady Eboshi and Irontown. Lady Eboshi is the woman who runs irontown, a place where they produce the iron balls for guns, canons, and construct rifles and other things. It’s a place of forward thinking industry and progress. When we first meet her, as i mentioned before, you go “oh ok, she’s our villain.” She is confident and full of herself, and you could see her being a bit crazy. but… is she the villain? most people who watch this movie might say yes, she is, even when all is said and done. But I don’t. Here’s why: sure, she is destroying the forest. Yes, she shoots at the Gods. But to be fair, they typically attack first. She is part of the way Japan is moving – toward industry. In her mind, the forest and the old Gods that live within it are no longer a part of her life. to her, they’re not even “real.” Instead, they’re just giant talking animals that try everything in their lives to destroy what she’s trying to do and hurt her people.

 Lady Eboshi is a tough woman. She takes a hit and keeps on fighting. She’s willing to sacrifice some in Irontown for the safety of the masses. In lots of ways she is very unforgiving and could easily be seen as a villain. But at the same time, the people of Irontown LOVE her – she has rescued women out of the brothels and lepers to come and work for her. She is respectful to them, and has a good sense of camaraderie with those in her town, despite the fact they are working for her. Her men and women would do anything to protect her. She is, in fact, a good person. Again, she is just trying to survive. She is trying to do her job, and in her mind, full scale war against the forest is the only way she can see to do that. Hatred has entered her heart when it comes to the forest and the Gods. Instead of trying to work together to find a solution, she sees that as a lost cause, and she is apt to destroy them.

 So yes, that may not be the best way to handle the situation, but in a lot of ways, you can’t blame her. The forest Gods are unforgiving as well, and many times they attack unprovoked to protect their forest. There are many forest Gods we see in this movie. We see Nago, the demon Boar in the beginning. We see much of Moro, the wolf God, and her pups. We see the ancient Boar God Okkoto and his “children,” although they are much smaller and lack the ability to speak. Just like the Emishi people, they are dying out, growing smaller and stupider, as Okkoto puts it. We see the Gorillas, although they are not involved as the Boar and the Wolves are. They, like Eboshi and Ashitaka, are just trying to survive. A threat has come upon their forest, and they are acting to protect it. Okkoto acts as the completely insane one – his heart is set on revenge and he believes the only way to get over this is by killing all the humans. Moro, on the other hand, is a bit more reserved, and she is smarter. She despises the humans as well, but knows full fledged war won’t get her what she wants. Part of this might stem from the fact that early in the movie she gets shot and carries an iron ball in her shoulder (this is also what was pulled from Nago). She knows she is not for this world, and almost refuses to get involved. Her pups, on the other hand, get involved. A big part of that, though, has to do with San.

 San is who this movie is named after. Mononoke-hime in Japanese (the name of the movie) translates literally into “The Spirit Princess.” San is Moro’s adopted human daughter. She’s like the Tarzan of this movie, but doesn’t have any want to think of herself as human. In fact, she despises humans and aligns herself quickly with Okkoto and his tribe of boar. She is like them – she wants nothing more than for the humans to leave her forest alone. She’s stubborn and Naive, feisty and strong. But she too, is blinded by hatred. She wants to personally murder Eboshi, and probably would have had it not been for Ashitaka in their first meeting. At times, she doesn’t know what to feel about him: he’s a human, but he understands the forest, and Yakul trusts him. She at one point tries to kill him but can’t. he’s the connector between her world and the human world, and it can be argued that he makes her more “human” as the movie progresses. not to the point she wants to live in Irontown, but he helps her calm her rage, and by the end of the movie, the two share a deep connection and understanding and is incredibly believable.

 Next I want to talk about Jigo. I would call him a minor character. There are a few more minor characters in Irontown I could mention, but their existence is there to remind us that they adore eboshi, but at the same time learn to respect Ashitaka as well. Jigo is another story. He’s an old monk that Ashitaka first meets on his way to the West. Jigo tells him to go to Irontown. Later, we see him in the forests near irontown and learn that he has been hired by the Emperor to decapitate the spirit of the forest and bring him his head. What kind of symbolism this is – geez, not hard to guess. “Show me that the forest and the native people have been tamed and that industry is supreme!” Yeah. Anyway, needless to say our climax for this movie is when he actually does succeed, and they must deal with the repercussions. Jigo is actually who I would call the villain of this movie. Although he’s not really in it that long, and he’s not really a bad person per se (again, he’s just doing his job), he’s really the only person that you don’t get to know well, and as such he just seems a bit more slimy than the rest. He comes with men dressed in bear and boar suits to trick Okkoto, and they use him to lead them to the sacred pool where the forest spirit lives. I feel like Eboshi would never stoop this low, even though she wishes the Gods gone.

 The forest spirit is the last “character” i’m going to talk about. He’s not a central character, but then again he is. He’s the main God. He’s who Ashitaka pleas to to get rid of his curse (but he doesn’t.) He’s the one who takes life from those who are suffering (such as Moro and Okkoto). He makes the trees grow and the flowers bloom. He is sort of in the background of the entire movie – the ever watchful God who knows not good from bad but just has his own set of rules to live by. Could he have stopped his head getting blown off? Probably. But that’s not what happened. Was it to teach a lesson? Did he know that his demise would mean peace for the others? Who knows. In the movie he’s depicted as a sort of deer like animal with a human-like face and feet of a bird. It’s strange in the english version, and this was one of the most difficult things to translate because this creature is in Japanese mythology. He has a specific name that is hard to translate into english. So instead we got the kinda bland “forest spirit.” Honestly? I think they did a really good job. We get who he is and what he does. We get that he’s important, benevolent, but harsh. 

 Ok. Enough with characters. I want to talk about this curse that Ashitaka has growing upon him. In the movie it manifests itself on him as this strange brown and reddish rash that starts on his hand and spreads until near the end of his movie, where it’s over most of his torso as well. It was a curse spread from Nago, the Boar God, to him in his last words hoping that he would die a horrible death full of hate, much like he did. Here’s the thing about this curse though. When we see Nago first, he’s a demon – he has these red tendrils growing out of him to the point where we can’t even tell he’s a boar. The Emishi people pull an iron ball from the boar, and its believed that this is what caused him to turn into a demon. But here’s the thing: Moro gets shot as well, and we see her eventually fade away into nothingness. She does at one point say that she doesn’t wish to turn into a demon as Nago did. So we never see her grow these tendrils. Okkoto, on the other hand, wounded from the battle, eventually gets these same tendrils. Did he also get shot? We don’t know. He’s injured, but who’s to say it’s from a rifle? It could have been from the bombs. Yet he has these tendrils, just like Nago did.

 Ready for what I (and possibly the rest of everyone?) thinks? It’s hatred. it manifests as those tendrils if you let the hatred overcome you. At one point, Ashitaka’s rash manifests into ghost tendrils, and he remarks “See? this is where the path of hatred has led us!” It happens at a time when he’s fed up with everyone and lets the hatred overcome him. It’s seriously cool. The mythos and rules and everything are so deeply rooted in this movie that it somehow intuitively makes sense, even if you watch this movie and go “wait, so what was that again?” 

 I DO want to talk about the dub, because it is widely held not only to be the best of the Miyazaki dubs, but possibly the best dub ever done. As I’ve mentioned in some other reviews, sometimes when a movie is taken out of its original context, some of the meaning of the movie is lost in translation. This movie (and I have seen the Japanese version of this movie as well) is as close to Miyazaki’s original intent as it possibly could be. It’s a testament to the respect that Miramax and Neil Gaiman gave to this movie. I know I’ve talked about Neil Gaiman on here before, but he is such an amazing fantasy writer, and he takes his subject so seriously that I can’t imagine anyone better to have written this movie. He made sure the lessons, context, and feel of the movie stayed the same. It’s truly amazing. It’s also an interesting thing to point out that this IS a miramax film, not a Disney one. There’s an interesting reason…

 Miramax, at the time (dunno if it still is) was owned by Disney. They have the rights to all of Miyazaki’s movies, and in 1997 when they got this movie, they attempted to edit it down, taking some of the more violent parts out (namely, the parts where Ashitaka’s cursed arm makes him superhuman, literally shooting the arms and heads off of people). Miyazaki would not have this, and told them if they couldn’t release it in its entirety, they shouldn’t release it at all (I don’t actually know if this was what was said, but I imagine something like that going down.). To compromise, Disney shuffled it to Miramax, it’s more adult movie oriented studio. They left the parts in, released it, and I believe it did okay here. it definitely wasn’t as big of a hit in the US as it was in Japan, where it was nominated for the equivalent of a Japanese Oscar (it was kinda a big deal there to for animation to be nominated, much like Beauty and the Beast when it was nominated here). 

 On the animation side, this movie is beautiful. this was the last cell drawn animated movie for Miyazaki (at least for a while), and it shows. It’s not as fluid as some of his later movies, but it is oh so incredibly beautiful. It’s watching movies like this that make me miss hand drawn animation. But then I revel in the fact that Studio Ghibli is still doing them. the details are beautiful, the landscapes are vast. It feels as if you are actually part of a real world, as opposed to being in a “movie world.” Like this would actually be places you could go. I have to mention the music too, because it is incredibly epic. I’ve only bought a handful of instrumental music from movies, and this is one. It’s beautiful, epic, and helps the movie convey the emotions it does so well through other means. 

 I could literally go on and on about this movie. I could show you clips of things I love, or discuss how well Miyazaki tied in the ideas of anti-war and environmentalism. But Honestly? I feel as if this is good enough. If anyone is interested, this video review of Princess Mononoke, I feel, is pretty thorough. I watched this and it honestly made me think more about the movie. It didn’t necessarily change what i thought about it (actually it made me realize I’m not the only one who thinks all the stuff I just wrote), but It’s very good. It’s long, but worth the watch if you’re a fan.

 It touches on a lot of the same things I talked about, but goes a bit more into depth as well as giving you a look at the movie. You can tell she loves this movie as much as I do, and honestly I can say that of a lot of people. This is one of my island movies. (as in – if you were stranded on an island and could only take 5 movies, what would they be?) It may be my favorite movie of all time. It’s long and serious, but as soon as I finish watching it, i want to turn around and watch it again. Writing this review almost a month after I watched it makes me want to watch it again. Watch it and find out for yourself why this movie has such avid fans.

 I give Princess Mononoke (big surprise here..) a 5 out of 5. I really can’t find anything wrong with it. It’s perfect and flawless. And that cannot be said of many movies.

 What I find interesting is this isn’t the movie that made Americans fall in love with Miyazaki. That’s next.

 Up Next: Spirited Away (2001)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

“Every one of us relies on water from the wells, because mankind has polluted all the lakes and rivers. but do you know why the well water is pure? It’s because the trees of the wastelands purify it! And you plan to burn the trees down? You must not burn down the toxic jungle! You should have left the giant warrior beneath the earth!… Asbel, tell them how the jungle evolved and how the insects are gaurding it so we won’t pollute the earth again. Asbel please!”  – Nausicaa

 

Yay it’s Miyazaki time! We’re going to get right into it with the second movie he directed, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. While technically NOT a studio Ghibli movie (the studio was founded after this movie came out), I still count it as such because it is 110% Miyazaki.

 So what’s Nausicaa about? I’ll do my best, but like many of Miyazaki’s movies, they tend to be pretty intricate and complicated with lots of things going on. 

 During the credits we’re introduced to the world that the movie takes place in, and some of the history that brought us there. In some places it looks like desert, with nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. We see these strange robot-like giants coated in flame, and see their remains scattered as a man with a gas mask rides through the desert on a strange looking bird creature.

 The next thing we see is a habitat that is very different – a jungle. Although it’s not like any jungle anyone now has ever seen. It’s inhabited by huge mutant like bugs – flying bugs, crawing bugs, you name it. We meet our protagonist, Nausicaa, as she wanders through the jungle with a gas mask on. In her lone wanderings the watcher learns that this is the toxic jungle, and we get the feeling we’re in some type of post-apocolyptic world. Nausicaa wanders and happens to find the shed shell of a bug she calls an Ohm. For the record, this is what it looks like, cause I’m too lazy to explain it. This is one that is angry. He has red eyes. Normally they’re blue. And you can see the person at the bottom left for scale. they’re big.

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 She pulls off its eye cap and exclaims it’s going to be of great use for her village before sensing that danger is around. An insane Ohm, with red eyes charges in its rage after the man we saw during the credits. She manages to calm him and the Ohm goes back to the jungle, while she goes down to the man. Turns out she knows him. This is Lord Yupa, on his way to the very same place she is: the Valley of the Wind.

 The two travel home together, where we learn Nausicaa is the princess of the Valley of the Wind. We learn a bit more about the toxic jungle and the land before the “apocalypse”: the spores that are produced by the plants in the jungle are deadly to humans, and as such the humans have been forced to seek out small livable areas. A few of the settlements are at war with each other, but the Valley of the wind is one of those that just wishes to be left in peace. The toxic jungle arose from something called the seven days of fire, and it has been one thousand years since that. 

 One night, a war ship from a settlement called Tolmekia goes down in the valley of the wind. Nausicaa attempts to rescue a girl from the wreckage. She is a war hostage, Lastelle of Pejite, and before she dies she warns Nausicaa to destroy the cargo in the ship.  Turns out the Tolmekian ship carries the embryo of a Giant Warrior, the bioweapon robot we saw the remains of early that caused the seven days of fire. 

 She is not able to, however, because the remaining unhurt Tolmekians place the valley under their rule, led by Princess Kushana. She explains to Nausicaa and Lord Yuba that her idea is to use the giant warrior to burn down the toxic jungle. They then at some point kill Nausicaa’s father, which sends Nausicaa into a blind rage, upset at Kushana for not only killing him, but attempting something so stupid as burning the jungle when it has been written that that will only cause more harm. We also learn here of a prophecy of a warrior clad in blue surrounded by fields of gold that will unite nature and man once more. It is a prophecy widely believed in the valley, but not so much with the other settlements anymore.

 The princess Kushana, however, does not seem to care and announces she will leave for Pejite, their enemy and the original owners of the Giant Warrior embryo. She is going to take hostages from the Valley of the Wind to ensure that the rest of her troops will be respected… I think…. Either that or just because she can. It’s confusing and I honestly don’t remember.

 Anyway, Nausicaa does eventually go after Kushana and the hostages to rescue them, but not before Lord Yuba finds her in her basement greenhouse. Turns out she has been studying the plants from the toxic jungle, and it is here we learn that it is not the plants, nor the water that is toxic, but the soil that it grows in, forever tainted by man from long ago.

 Kushana and the hostages, along with Nausicaa attempting to rescue them, never reach Pejite, because they are shot down by a Pejite ship (this ship is also destroyed in the duel). They crash land in the toxic jungle, angering a few Ohm, which Nausicaa is able to take time and soothe.  She then leaves the Princess and her fellow valley folk to go and rescue the pilot of the Pejite ship, who turns out to be Asbel, the brother of the girl she rescued from the Tolmekian ship.

 The two of them wander through the jungle. Asbel wants to return to Pejite and Nausicaa wants everyone to just stop thinking of war. They get swallowed up by quicksand and we learn that under the toxic jungle is a whole other world that is not toxic. Turns out the plants above are actually purifying the water and the soil, sending it down below when it is cleansed.

 Eventually Nausicaa and Asbel return to Pejite to find it has been ravaged by insects. The survivors tell them it was a plan: the tolmekians were attacking and the insects destroyed them – they’re doing the same thing to the Valley of the Wind so that they can get their giant warrior back. Obviously this makes Nausicaa upset. She is taken captive as everyone boards an airship headed for the Valley of the Wind.

 On the airship, Asbel and the women of Pejite help Nausicaa escape so she can warn her people about the Ohm attack. She finds the pejites using an injured baby ohm as bait to anger the older ones, leading them to the Valley.  Trying to protect themselves, the Tolmekians in the Valley deploy tanks and even try to hatch the Giant Warrior to fight the Ohm, but none of it works and the Giant Warrior disintegrates.

 Nausicaa frees the baby Ohm and attempts to gain its trust as the stampede comes closer. They end up running the two over, but then grow calm as they almost realize what they’ve done. They use their golden tentacles to lift up Nausicaa’s body and heal it. Stained by the Ohm’s blue blood, she fulfills the prophecy of the warrior clad in blue in a sea of gold. The Tolmekians leave the valley, the Pejites remain behind to live there, and under the toxic jungle a tree begins to grow.

 So that’s Nausicaa. There is a LOT going on and honestly I didn’t touch on a lot of stuff that could even be considered important. If it seems all over the place and hard to understand, that’s honestly because it is. This was Miyazaki’s first foray into many themes he would become fluent in over the years. But like a Bicycle, I call Nausicaa the movie with the training wheels: You can tell what he wanted to do, but the execution was not perfect. At the same time, this movie needed to be made to show him what he had the ability to do.

 Don’t get me wrong. This is still a great movie. I just think I’ve had to watch it at least 3 or 4 times before I really got what was going on. The political stuff with the Tolmekians and the Pejites is a bit hard to understand, and honestly it’s hard to keep track sometimes of who is from what settlement just because both are so set on war and they have no idea why. It’s also a bit preachy in its messages. Like, really preachy. Sometimes the environmental stuff is thrown in our face, as is stuff like the fact that it’s so amazing that Nausicaa can calm the Ohm. 

 Let’s talk about the themes in this movie, because as we continue with Miyazaki movies, they’re going to be repeated over and over, and I’m going to talk about them over and over:

  1.  Strong Female characters: Miyazaki LOVES a strong female lead. In fact, she doesn’t even have to be the lead character. If there’s something this guy is good at, it’s writing really interesting female characters. In this case, it is the protagonist. Nausicaa isn’t afraid to fight or stand up for herself. She’s not afraid to get in there with the guys. She stands up against the giant Ohm and wanders in the Toxic Jungle when other braver men run away. She’s willing to do anything to protect not only her valley and her people, but the creatures that no one else is willing to even try and understand. She can be a bit too perfect however. She’s kinda the jesus figure. But that doesn’t matter too much. She’s still interesting enough. 
  2. Airships: Not as much in this one as in his others, Miyazaki has this obsession with flying. Gliders, ships, planes, you name it. They’re always big, unique, and play some type of role in the movies he directs and writes. In this movie, they’re warships. Nausicaa has this amazing glider that she rides on parallel to the ground (how strong are that girl’s abs??). The designs are awesome, and this is just a start to what we see in his later movies.
  3.  The Environment: This one is possibly the biggie for Miyazaki. This man is all about saving the environment. He loves a cautionary tale. He loves the environmental overtones. This is one of his two environmental epics. In some, as this one,this theme really does take itself seriously, and it is front and center in some part of the plot of the story. In this movie, it shares its importance with his theme about war. It’s what Nausicaa studies about the plants. It’s them finding out that it was man that caused this. The earth is renewing itself. That in a desperate, desolate world, there can be hope. The world is fixing itself, and it doesn’t need the humans go to and try to mess it up again. 

 Ok, after exploring a few of his themes in general, this movie obviously utilizes all three. The problem, as I mentioned before, is almost that this movie tried too hard. Miyazaki knew what he wanted to do, but the execution wasn’t quite right. He wanted to do this amazing environmental epic that was also anti-war and anti-violence. He wanted to do a movie about a girl who understood and could bring everyone together. In some ways, He did succeed. In other ways, he really didn’t.

 I’m going to sound like a broken record, but the hardest part of watching this movie is knowing what it could have been. If the plot hadn’t been as intricate. If they had calmed down a bit of the political stuff, or actually sat and explained it all. I mean, I needed wikipedia for help with the plot, because I wasn’t actually sure if I knew it correctly. 

 I’m going to be honest. Any Miyazaki fan will say the same things about Nausicaa, despite probably saying they liked it. A big part of that is because his other environmental epic exists, and it is just so much better (Princess Mononoke… we’ll get to it later). If that movie hadn’t been so good or hadn’t even existed, I think many people who are die hard Miyazaki fans would like this one better. That being said, people who don’t know Mononoke or watch this before they see that one tend to forgive many of its vices. However you would be hard pressed to find anyone who has seen both and prefers this one. 

 So obviously I’m upset about the plot and how he tried to do too much. What do I like? I love the idea. The idea of this world that was torn apart by war brought on by man; a world where the soil became so toxic that the plants that grew there were deadly. Until we learn that it’s the soil that’s toxic, and that it was brought on by man, it just seems like some random post-apocalyptic world. Almost like an “oh well, that’s what happened I guess.” But when we learn it was people that did it, something just clicks. Oh. I get what he’s going for. The idea that the toxic jungle is actually the world cleansing itself. The idea that the people don’t really get it and this girl is the only one who has eyes big enough to see it. That to me is fascinating. I just wish the rest of it wasn’t so complicated. I almost wish it focused more on her getting people to understand the jungle instead of trying to stop a war.

 The characters are… alright. I think I’m going hard on this movie because, again, I know what his later ones are like. Really, the characters are good. They don’t necessarily have depth (other than arguably Nausicaa), but they’re not boring. The voices for the dub fit pretty well for the most part. EXCEPT…. Geez, did they really have to use Shia LaBeouf for Asbel? I’m not a fan. Not that Asbel’s an interesting character anyway, but…. Ugh. 

 There’s nothing really good or bad about the characters. Honestly, the only one I ever really remember is Nausicaa. And the Ohm. The bugs are cool, and the Ohm are really unique. The humans are fine, but their just… there. No one else really stands out in my mind for being something other than a carbon copy of some type of archetypical fantasy character. Kushana is obsessed with war and doesn’t seem to have a good bone in her body (but she’s boring about it). Lord Yuba (Patrick Stewart) is all wise man mentor-y. Asbel is a stupid kid who wants revenge. Although I have to admit at least his mind is changed at the end, so I guess that’s good. I hate to say it but the most memorable characters are these two little girls that live in the Valley that we literally see in two scenes. Because they’re funny. Because they ask about the prophecy, and they love Nausicaa. Everyone else is just blah.

 I also do kinda hate the whole Prophecy thing. I mean I don’t mind it in some movies/books, but I don’t know – did anyone NOT think it was going to get fulfilled by Nausicaa by the end of the movie? Were they trying to throw us off by saying it was going to be a man? Because the first time I saw this movie and they explained the prophecy, I of course knew that it would be Nausicaa. I don’t like prophecies like that. Where the person doesn’t know it’s them but it really should be obvious. It’s almost like if we just knew the whole time she was the prophet, that would have been better. Like she had to go around the try to convince the Tolmekians and the Pejites that she was who she was. THAT would have been interesting. 

 Wow, this was so much more negative than I thought it was going to be when I started writing it. I’m not going to lie. I’m ragging on this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. It IS a good movie. I still love owning it and I still really enjoy watching it. There’s just a lot of issues that I have with it. I haven’t even gotten to the seriously 80s music. That just kinda makes me laugh…

 I would still tell people to watch this movie. It’s not the first Miyazaki movie I would tell people to watch, because it’s not his best. Not by far. But it DOES show us where he came from. It shows us the seeds for the themes he will live by. It shows us the types of stories and begins to show us what types of characters he can create. Thank God he gets better at characters!! If you’ve seen a few Ghibli movies but haven’t yet seen this one, I would give it a watch. If you’re a fan of Miyazaki, you’ll like it. But it’s not a good intro. You’ll have to wait a few more reviews for that…

 I give Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) a 3.2 out of 5. 

 Next up: Castle in the Sky

Miyazaki Madness – a commercial break

Alright, I’m taking a break because I feel like before I get into my next little set of reviews, I need to explain the man that is Hayao Miyazaki to anyone who may not know. A little background is important considering the fact that my next 10 reviews are all movies this man either wrote, co-wrote, directed, or any combination of the three. A lot of the time, if you mention one of his movies, people either go “oh of course! hey, have you also seen _____ (insert another of his movies here)”, or “right… isn’t that the guy whose movie won the animation oscar over Pixar that one year?” or “who??” So I am going to put it all to rest. Here’s a bit about the amazing man that is Hayao Miyazaki.

Long story short, he’s a Japanese Animator who is as famous in Japan as Walt Disney is here (arguably more so). His movies, animation, and characters are as popular as winnie the Pooh, the little mermaid, or any other pop culture thing here in the US. Pretty much, he’s an animation God. 

Miyazaki, born in 1941, got into the animation game in 1961, where he was an animator for a few random japanese tv shows. It wasn’t until 1979 that he was able to direct his first picture, Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. From here he was able to gather more freedom, wrote his first original movie (the first one on my list to be posted tomorrow), and eventually formed his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli. 

The movies he creates are unique, dreamlike, sometimes scary, and almost always completely individual, yet somehow they almost always contain many similar elements. How this man has come up with this many stories is beyond me, especially when they are all so different and you sit there and go “how did he even think of something like this??” Everyone I know of who has watched at least one of his better known movies has been a fan. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked, and you have to go out and find and watch every one of his movies.

 I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Miyazaki has really only become more recognizable in the US for the past decade or so. I have known about him since I was 4 years old. I spent random chunks of my childhood in Japan due to my father having a sabbatical there every seven years to work for Hitachi and the Tokyo Institute. I remember first watching My Neighbor Totoro (we’ll get to that one in a few reviews) on VHS when we returned home, and it seemed as if that movie was always on for a period in our house. As I grew older, I honestly forgot a bit about him and about Totoro. When we were in Japan again in 1996, I was 12 and remember seeing posters for his next movie, Princess Mononoke, and remember being intrigued, but we left before I got a chance to see it, and in all honesty I wouldn’t have been able to find a theater that had it in subtitles anyway. This was before Disney bought all the rights to Studio Ghibli, so again Miyazaki dropped off the map. It wasn’t until Spirited Away that I remembered the amazing man and animation, because at this point the USA was finally ready for him. That year Spirited away won best animated picture at the oscars, and Disney bought the rights to Studio Ghibli movies and rereleased them all in the US. YAY!

 Now he isn’t the only animator/director at Studio Ghibli, but he is the one I know the best. His son, Goro Miyazaki, has also started writing and directing (with mixed results… Dad has to help him out for it to be any good), and the other more famous director at Ghibli is Isao Takahata. Now I don’t own any of his movies, but they’re on my list to watch. I’ve heard he’s very different than Miyazaki’s fantasy/crazy stuff, but he’s still good. I’ll get there eventually.

So we have 9 movies to watch. I’ve decided I’m going to start by ranking them how I think I’m going to with my reviews. This is before I’ve watched them, and we’ll see if i’m right or if my minds get changed (btw, this is as hard for me as ranking pixar movies…)

1. Princess Mononoke (1997)

2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

3. Castle in the Sky (1986)

4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

5. Spirited Away (2001)

6. Porco Rosso (1992)

7. Ponyo (2008)

8. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – technically not Studio Ghibli)

9. The Secret World of Arriety (2010)

10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Gah that was hard!! seriously. It’s like rating the Pixar movies. They’re all so good figuring out the order in the middle is like torture. So yes. That’s a bit about Miyazaki. We will be going Chronologically, so my first review will be Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)