Friday, December 15, 2006

Fleeing Disney for Miyazaki's gifts of imagination

The school holidays (and Christmas!) are right on our tails, and legions of parents are trying to figure out what they're going to do with the kids over the summer – if they (like me) are unlucky enough to not be able to take the kids away from the city for a week or more!

If you want to run screaming away from the American studios' animated offerings this summer cinema season, but need something for the kids to do, try Japanese
anime for a change. I wouldn't normally encourage kids to spend their summer (or any other) holiday in front of the TV or DVD, but there are some good things worth watching!

One of my family's favourite films is from the anime (Japanese animation) stable of Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki –
Spirited Away. My partner's brother gave it to my eldest boy last Christmas (he was five then).

It is full of the elements that make a great Miyazaki anime: spirits, fantasy, amazing colour and scenary detail, a fully imagined 'world', some insights into 'traditional' Japanese culture, and a gutsy heroine. More importantly, it doesn't have the violence, misogyny, bizarre sexuality and dystopian sci-fi of a lot of other Japanese anime.

In fact, one of my favourite things about Miyazaki films is that he loves girls, or young women, as his central characters – strong personality, inquisitive, sometimes fearless, other times fearful in facing many horrors. Chihiro, the central character of Spirited Away, is all this.

But, Spirited Away is no Disney cream-puff, as none of Miyazaki's films are. It has its scary bits, can be quite gross, is very long, and has a narrative arc that challenges an adult's attention span, let alone a child's (which lends itself to DVD home viewing – you can pause the movie, the kids can get up and down, get food, go to the toilet etc, and come back to it). It also has many subtle social messages as sub-texts: Chihiro's parents' gluttony ensnares them in a spell that is turning them into pigs, and Chihiro has to save them. Becoming trapped in the dangerous spirit world, Chihiro must survive in a spirit bathhouse, befriending many strange spirits, to secure their freedom.

Spirited Away was made in 2001 and is rated PG. It is available on DVD from most good video shops.

There's more on Miyazaki on Wikipedia. If you want to introduce younger kids to Miyazaki's anime, it may be better to start them with something like Kiki's Delivery Service (1989, rated G), which I'd love review another time. Earlier work My Neighbour Totoro (1988, G) would also suit younger kids.

If your kids are a bit older, or have seen
Kiki or Totoro, then Spirited Away would be ideal. One word of warning – Miyazaki's most recent film, Howl's Moving Castle (2004, PG), is very dark, is concerned with the violence of war, is quite long, and definitely for older kids (say, 8/9 +).

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At December 15, 2006 11:00 am, Blogger unique_stephen said...

thnak you for the heads up.

I'm still thinking about the kids book post that you put up earlier. I'll get back to it with more ideas some time.

At December 15, 2006 3:05 pm, Blogger Alison Croggon said...

Don't forget Princess Mononoko (I hope I got that right) - definitely for older kids (and adults) and maybe among my favourites of his. And Laputa: Castle in the Sky. And Porco Rosso. And Nausicaa...they'll keep you going through those 40 degree plus days.

The man's a genius.

At December 15, 2006 4:18 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Alison, yes, he's a genius, but I certainly wish he would stop testing his audiences' stamina and attention span (especially one bred on a Disney–Hollywood diet. I don't know much about the Japanese audience's stamina for long narratives, and I wonder if they find him long as well).

That's a minor whinge for me, but a big issue when taking little kids to the cinema to see a Miyazaki, which is why I recommend seeing them on DVD at home.

I have only seen Laputa out of the others you've mentioned, mainly for the reason that they're rated M and thus not suitable for our weekly family movie nights, and/or more than a bit violent...

But, I'll check them out one day. Thanks for that.

At January 25, 2007 2:33 pm, Blogger Helen said...

I recently saw "Howl's Moving Castle". As a devotee of "Spirited Away", of course I lapped it up - but I found the dialogue impossible to tolerate. For those who haven't seen it, HMC is set in Late Victorian England (Crystal palace, early model cars and trains et cetera)-- but the characters are always talking in very broad Hollywood / California - ese. Gee whiz! It was VERY disconcerting and annoying with the painly British visuals.

I had a minor argument with SO as to why the fantastic elements of the story didn't throw me as much as the anachronistic dialogue, so I'm thinking of working up a post on that, but would have to get the movie out again. It also prompted a useful discussion with the kids as to what "anachronism" means.

At January 29, 2007 5:48 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Helen, I wonder, though, how 'odd' it would seem to watch Howl's Moving Castle (which I actually imagined taking place on the continent – Belgium or somewhere), or any other Miyazaki, in the original Japanese dialogue.

19C European characters in Japanese?

Gives another take on the 'authenticity' of accent and voice for the story and characters...


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