Friday, June 11, 2010

Hayao Miyazaki

When Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” won the Oscar for best animated feature film in 2003 it was a truly rare moment for those awards. They actually honored the best film nominated in that category and, even more rare, if not unique, they honored the filmmaker for what seems to be his masterpiece. Then the Academy got back to business as usual by giving the best picture award to the grossly over-praised and completely ephemeral “Chicago” over Polanski’s “The Pianist”.

This observation was occasioned by looking at a DVD of Miyazaki’s latest film, “Ponyo”, which is delightful, beautiful and odd, as usual. I’m happy to report that while the plot has several “what the…?!” moments, it is basically coherent, which distinguishes it from his previous film, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, whose plot is not capable of being followed by mere humans.

What I like most in Miyazaki’s films is his interest in the specificity of things, particularly mechanical things, and of the natural world. In “Ponyo” the two children go sailing through a flooded landscape in a toy tin boat, powered by a candle heating water into steam. The toy has been enlarged to kid size by magic. What I like least about his films is his penchant for conjuring up various deities (in “Ponyo” a nature goddess) who by their very nature tend to be presented with broad and somewhat generic strokes.

In contrast the magical creatures in “Spirited Away” are interestingly idiosyncratic. My favorite scene in the film is the ride the heroine takes on a mid-twentieth-century trolley accompanied by a bizarre spirit companion and ghostly passengers. The specificity of the trolley and the landscape and the spectral strangeness of the superhuman crew is one of the many pleasures of this great film.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE that scene across the lake. I sometimes fire up the DVD just to watch that. The ghostly workers departing the train, the beauty of the reflections in the water. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about that scene.

I assume you've seen his other earlier films too? If not, My Neighbor Totoro is probably the best one. If you haven't seen it, please be sure to check that one out!

Tim (the younger)

Bureau Chief said...

I also think Totoro is Miyazaki's next best film. My favorite scene is the one where Totoro is standing at a bus stop in the driving rain, with a leaf on his head, and the little kid comes up with an umbrella.