Last week I rented Castle in the Sky by famed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. And it’s one of the best animated films I’ve seen, right up there with The Iron Giant, Aladdin, and Miyazaki‘s own Spirited Away. About a boy and girl being chased across the earth by pirates and worse, all trying to get their hands on a mysterious pendant, and all in search of a legendary floating castle, the film features a fascinating, lived-in world of monstrous airships and starry caves and lopsided robots. As with Miyazaki’s other films, you get a sense you’re seeing just a glimpse of a world that’s already there, something that was found rather than invented. (I’ve heard this said about Tolkein too, and perhaps it’s the hallmark of great fantasy). It isn’t as weird as his more popular recent films, but that makes it no less satisfying.

Today I saw Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which is Miyazaki’s first major work, from 1984. It is as weird as his more recent films, but is not more satisfying for it. With its heavy-handed environmentalist message, its personality-less young female protagonist, its big creeping bugs and goo monsters, and its rambling plotline, Nausicaa feels like an earlier draft of Princess Mononoke, the main difference being the aforementioned hallmark: this does not feel like a stumbled upon, lived-in world. Complex, yes, but something feels off. Maybe it’s the aggressive kingdom that seems to act without reason. Maybe it’s the people of the Valley, who don’t seem to have interior lives outside the story. Maybe it’s the blunt exposition or confusing geography.

Still, see it. Even with the Pixar-driven CGI renaissance, most American animated films are disappointing: stubbornly small, reliably anti-epic, as if kids will revolt at the sight of real conflict, as if animation was invented solely to give voice to cuddly animals and inanimate objects. There’s no limit to the storytelling possibilities and the best we can come up with is a sassy zebra! Even a muddled Miyazaki is a refreshing reminder of what animation can do.


One Response to “Miyazaki”

  1. YLlama Says:

    Huh. I actually found Nausicaa to be superior to Castle in the Sky (although both are great) precisely because I found the Nausicaa world to feel more lived in. The environmental message of Nausicaa did feel a little heavy-handed at times. But there was something about the teetering-on-the-edge-of-cliffs and flying-through-the-sky nature of the habitations of the Castle-dwellers that made me think of “The Jetsons.” Which is one of the least plausible worlds I can think of.

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