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.