RECENTLY RATED MOVIES #13 (MIYAZAKI EDITION)

You might notice, after finishing the reading of this post, a trio of Hayao Miyazaki films beginning the listing of Recently Rated Movies; likewise, you will also find a pair of his films in the last posting of this regular feature (#12). I know it sometimes sounds as if I were some sort of publicist for Turner Classic (and it would be nice if I were, for I hear sometimes people get recompense for such activities), but clearly I am just some sort of unhinged movie nut who simply uses Turner as the default station on his cable box (if such things were possible, it would be so). As such, I have spent the last couple of weeks immersing myself in TCM's Miyazaki festival, a compilation of nine films either directed, written or produced by the Master Animator, and hosted by both Ben Mankiewicz and John Lasseter, of PIXAR and Toy Story fame.

The first time that I saw a Miyazaki film happened long before he became a known entity to me. This would be , known here in the colonies as My Neighbor Totoro, and while I enjoyed the film immensely, believing it to be one of the most pastorally charming movies that I have ever encountered, because I did not possess a proper pipeline for anime at the time, the film wandered off in my memory. And so did Miyazaki... until I met Tatsuya.

A friend that I met through the social circles of the theatre department at the local university, Tatsuya, due to a variety of circumstances, ended up needing a place to crash for a month. As I had just recently lost a roommate, and was still undecided as to whether I would pursue another boarder, I let my still rather recently acquired friend stay with me. And with him, he brought Hayao Miyazaki back into my life. Tatsuya, as I recall it, had a copy of Mononoke-hime, which I and a relative handful in America would come to know as Princess Mononoke, sent to him from back home in Japan. For several months up to that point, I had eyed with great interest a figurine that hung from the rearview mirror of Tatsuya's car. It was of a kodoma, one of the spirit folk that populates the deep forests in Mononoke-hime with a head that looks like a melted bowling ball, and set slightly tilted to one side. I would ask him on occasion the name of the film from whence it came, and he would tell me, but as I never thought that I would actually see the damn thing, so the name just passed ghost-like through me.

But here, in my own household, was a copy of that film, with tiny cute kodoma set all about the cover, though from the copy, entirely in Japanese without a word of English in sight, I knew that the film was solely in the language of his birth, and that I would be viewing it sans subtitled translation. But view it I did, and from the opening scene with the giant forest boar-god tearing through the farmland, with his flesh being devoured from whatever had taken purchase inside of him, and Prince Ashitaka being infected with a curse set loose and named by the boar-god, I was captivated. I would occasionally turn to Tats and ask him what was being said, to which he replied, "It's...it's complicated."

It is a point of great humor amongst my friends, and Tatsuya is aware of this, that in moments of needed translation, he responds with "It's... complicated." (It often gets shortened to simply, "Complicated.") The truth of the matter is, it was complicated. The tremendous of translating subtle emotional or metaphysical concepts that have been captured in language via the process of a sort of cultural shorthand is complicated business, no matter how well you translate. Tatsuya tried very hard to outline some of what was happening, but some concepts just don't travel, and need to be felt more than explained. This is what I derived from that first viewing of Mononoke-hime, and after that initial half-hour, I simply settled into watching the gorgeous film, and picked up on the bulk of the meaning merely from the feel of the piece.

I watched the film once more that night on my own, and about ten more times the rest of that too short month. (I greatly enjoyed having Tatsuya as a roommate.) I didn't see Mononoke-hime again until it was released in late 1999 to American theatres. It wasn't the same. Most of the voices were fine, but, while I am a great admirer of Billy Bob Thornton's acting, he was clearly the wrong choice for the voice of Jigo, his Southern accent not quite jibing with the obvious and overwhelmingly Japanese background and setting. (A friend of mine joked that he "was from the South of Japan.") The film was still great, and it was a sublime pleasure to see the incredibly intricate animation set loose on a movie screen. I did see the film three times more that month, so, American dubbing or not, I was clearly hooked on it. but it wasn't until the DVD came out that I got what I truly craved: subtitles. Hearing the film in Japanese just seemed so right, and I could read the story as I watched the film; though, more often than not, I don't even run the subtitles.

After all, I had already felt the movie. Who needs subtitles?

The List of Doom:
Mimi wo sumaseba [Whisper of the Heart] (1995) (TCM) - 7; Kurenai no buta [Porco Rosso] (1992) (TCM) - 7; Tonari no Totoro [My Neighbor Totoro] (1988) (TCM) - 8; Il Conformista [The Conformist] (1970) (TCM) - 7; Genevieve (1953) (TCM) - 7; The Most Dangerous Game (1932) (DVD) - 6; Shura-yuki-hime [Lady Snowblood] (1973) (DVD) - 7; Oliver Twist (1948) (TCM) - 9; Dig! (2004) (DVD) - 7; Amazon Women On the Moon (1987) (Sundance) - 6; Solaris (2002) (IFC) - 6; El Espinazo del Diablo [The Devil's Backbone] (2001) (IFC) - 8.

Comments

Alexis T. said…
Okay, so here I am thinking, \Didn't Rik introduce me to Princess Mononoke?\ It appears I have Tats to thank for that. And I must say I was laughing pretty hard when you mentioned that his response about what was going on was "It's...it's complicated". I haven't seen or heard from him in a while but that small sentence put his voice right in my ear as if it were yesterday!
Wow, your experiences with Miyazaki are firghteningly similar to my own. I also started with Totoro(oh how I longed for a plush cat-bus bed to crawl into... thats much less creepy if you've seen the film, i hope), and then moved onto a Japanese video of Mononoke Hime loaned to me by my Japanese professor. The language barrier in no way diminished my love for that movie, and like you I was left wanting more from the American dub. It's such a beautiful movie, and a lot of the attitudes are so antithetical to many of our American beliefs, it's a hard one to translate no matter how you look at it.
I can't wait for you to move on to other Ghibli films, like Pom Poko. If only to read your review of a fine family film featuring anthropomorphic raccoons who don't know what pants are and all have gigantic testicles(well, the men anyway). Not a Miyazaki, but I love Studio Ghibli!
ak_hepcat said…
Everything in life is "Complicated" as Tats always made clear. Like you, I much preferred the original over the import, although I didn't watch it at your den as often as you did.

Great, now I miss you both.
bubba said…
Ahhhh those were tha days... tho my first experience with these films was with a fan sub of Nausica and the Vally of the wind. From there I started searching out some more fan subs which at the time one could buy on the sly from Boscos for $27 a shot... they were most likely not used to selling anything other than Henti there, as a matter of fact I thing it was Peter that sold me these fine flims in the shitty quality. Blah Blah Blah... love the films you guys should come here one summer we have a drive in.
squeak said…
What makes it complicated is that Tats really isnt Japanese. He's a faker and you all know it!!!!

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