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Posts Tagged ‘Miyazaki’

Princess Mononoke.

In July, Princess Mononoke, the animated film for grown-ups of all ages, turned 25. I have thought about it often since Asakiyume first pointed me toward the work of the brilliant Hayao Miyazaki. So many things in life remind me of the movie’s wisdom.

The BBC highlighted the Princess Mononoke birthday with a deep think.

Stephen Kelly reports, “In 1997, the British fantasy author Neil Gaiman received a call out of the blue from then-head of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein. ‘This animated film, Princess Mononoke,’ Gaiman recalls him saying, ‘it’s the biggest thing in Japan right now. So I thought I’ve got to get the best to do it. I called Quentin Tarantino and said, “Quentin, will you do the English language script?” And he said, “You don’t want me, you want Gaiman.” So, I’m calling you.’ Miramax, a then-subsidiary of Disney, had acquired the rights to distribute Princess Mononoke, the newest film from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, in the United States, and Weinstein wanted to fly Gaiman to Los Angeles to watch a cut of the movie.

” ‘I had zero plans to do it,’ Gaiman tells BBC Culture. ‘But the moment that changed everything for me was the scene where you’re looking at this large pebble. And then a raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And now it’s raining and the surface is slippery and wet. And I’m like, “I have never seen anything like this.” ‘ …

“When Princess Mononoke was first released … it represented something of a departure for master animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. During the late 80s, Miyazaki had built his reputation (along with the success of Studio Ghibli, which he founded with fellow director Isao Takahata) on films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro; formally ambitious, thematically rich works, but generally affirming in tone and family-friendly in nature.

“But something changed during the 90s. Firstly, he began to bristle at the popular idea that Studio Ghibli only makes gentle movies about how great nature is. … Even more significant was his growing despair at a world which he had increasingly come to believe was cursed.

” ‘He used to be what he called leftist in sympathy, a believer in people power,’ explains Shiro Yoshioka, lecturer in Japanese Studies at Newcastle University. ‘But for obvious reasons [the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the escalation in ethnic conflicts across Europe], his political beliefs were totally shaken in the early 1990s.’

“Japan itself was also going through something of an existential crisis. The country’s bubble period, an economic boom during the late 80s, burst in 1992, stranding Japan in a seemingly endless recession. Three years later, in 1995, the country was hit by the Kobe earthquake, the worst earthquake to hit Japan since 1922. It killed 6,000 people, and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands more. Only two months after that, a terrorist cult by the name of Aum Shinrikyo launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro, killing 13 and injuring thousands. Miyazaki, who was sickened by the materialism of the bubble period, was now living in a country traumatized and confused – both by its relationship with nature, and a creeping sense of spiritual emptiness.

” ‘He began to think,’ says Yoshioka, ‘maybe I should not make this entertaining, light-hearted stuff for children. Maybe I should make something substantial.’

“Set during the 14th Century, the Muromachi period of Japan, Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince cursed by the hatred of a dying boar god, who has been corrupted by an iron ball lodged in his body. … To seek a cure for his curse, Ashitaka travels across the land, hoping to find the Shishigami, a deer-like forest spirit with the power to bring life and death.

“Along the way, Ashitaka discovers a world out of balance. The ironworks community of Tatara, run by the enigmatic Lady Eboshi, is ravaging the nearby forest for resources, provoking the wrath of ferocious wolf god Moro and her feral human daughter San (the titular Mononoke, which roughly translates to spectre or wraith). Caught in the middle is Ashitaka, who must figure out how to navigate this difficult world with ‘eyes unclouded.’ …

” ‘I believe that violence and aggression are essential parts of us as human beings,’ Miyazaki once told journalist Roger Ebert. ‘The issue that we confront as human beings is how to control that impulse.’ …

“Hayao Miyazaki is a self-confessed bundle of contradictions. Read his writings, listen to his interviews, watch him speak, and he paints a portrait of an artist caught between idealism and nihilism, optimism and despair. …

“This idea of a man at war with himself is obvious to see in the characters and world of Princess Mononoke: a film that, as Miyazaki told a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival in 1998, ‘was not made to judge good and evil.’ Take Lady Eboshi, whose mining colony is manufacturing an arsenal of guns to use against the forest gods. In most animated movies, she would be cast as the greedy, villainous scourge of nature. But Eboshi is also a generous leader, someone who has liberated women (implied to be former sex workers) from feudalistic oppression, who has provided a safe haven for leprosy sufferers and outcasts, and whose industrialization work is raising the standards of human life.

” ‘It would have been so easy to have a “technology is bad versus the good beasts of the forest” story,’ says Susan Napier, professor of the Japanese Program at Tufts University, Massachusetts, and author of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. ‘But the foundry helps these marginalized people live. It gives them jobs, a source of community, pride.’ Speaking in 1997 to Cine Furontosha magazine, Miyazaki himself once rationalized Lady Eboshi with ‘often, those who are destroying nature are in reality people of good character. People who are not evil diligently take actions thinking they are for the best, but the results can lead to terrible problems.’ “

It’s a long and thoughtful article. Read more at the BBC, here. No firewall.

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