Japanese animation opens up a whole new world of storytelling

Home Arts and Entertainment Japanese animation opens up a whole new world of storytelling

Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese animator and a founder of the studio, Studio Ghibli, known for making films that appeal to young and old. Through the friendship and work of fellow director John Lasseter, known for his work at Pixar, Miyazaki’s films have received star-studded dubs (translations) and imports into the United States, for enjoyment by an international audience. Following are descriptions and my opinions of some of my favorites by Mr. Miyazaki.

The most recent I’ve seen was Ponyo (Gake no Ue no Ponyo: 2008), based very loosely on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Little Mermaid. This is one of those few from Miyazaki that are geared more towards the younger set. Sosuke is a little boy growing up with his mother Lisa and his father Koichi, on an island populated by fishing boats. One day, Sosuke finds what he thinks is a curiously human-looking little goldfish trapped in a jar, frees it, and takes it home. Soon we realize this little goldfish (whom Sosuke calls Ponyo) isn’t an ordinary creature; she’s magical, and wishes to be human.

A cast of familiar voices include Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Matt Damon, and many more. Despite my age, I actually do love this kind of movie, and unreservedly give it five stars.

Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime: 1997) is a true epic of storytelling in every sense of the word: a story that clearly encompasses much more than what we see, multifaceted characters with complex goals and ambitions, and far-reaching consequences to its climax. Evil spirits have been polluting nature, sending out avatars (demons) to attack humanity. One such demon, a boar, scratches our hero, Ashitaka, conferring a curse that he’s told will eventually be fatal, so he leaves his village to search for a cure. He finds that his cursed arm has superhuman powers, and he defends himself rather brutally against several attackers from a besieged village. Upon arrival at an industrial city, Iron Town, he’s told that he can enter the forest from there to seek aid, but is warned that entry into the forest means death for humans…

Another amazing story with wonderful animation as per Studio Ghibli standards, as well as great voice acting by Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Gillian Anderson and many more, this is definitely an enjoyable movie. Five stars again!

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi: 2001) tells the story of Chihiro, who while on a vacation with her parents discovers a quaint, historical village which enthralls them. Her parents help themselves to great amounts of food seemingly abandoned, while Chihiro explores the village and a grand tower, a bathhouse. Soon, she finds that it’s a magical realm she finds herself in, and her parents have been transformed into pigs for their gluttony! In order to save them and return home, Chihiro will give up her name and become Sen; sell herself into servitude to the overbearing mistress of the bathhouse, and befriend a strange boy who may hold the key to her and her parents’ salvation.

Another wondrous and epic tale, though not so epic as Mononoke; still, a masterwork of animation and storytelling, brought to life by the likes of Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, David Ogden Stiers, and John Ratzenberger (also a noted Pixar performer!). Five stars!

There are more works by Studio Ghibli that I don’t have space to review here; I have seen Castle in the Sky, for one, and deem it as wonderful as those I’ve reviewed. I encourage you to check out these wondrous tales of adventure and see for yourself!