August 29, 2006
Things That Have Happened
So much has happened in the last two months! I went home for two weeks, moved into a new apartment (pictures pending), rediscovered the joys of cooking my own meals, bought too many DVDs, got two new side jobs I shouldn't mention yet, AND most importantly of all--
I have a girlfriend. She's Korean, and a math teacher, and we watch movies together and do things and stuff. I won't mention her name because her mother would kill her if she knew she was dating a foreigner, but this is the main reason I haven't been posting lately (that plus all the above things).
Next superfun thing to do: Pusan Film Festival Oct. 12-20.
Next trip to Tokyo: For the Tokyo Int'l Film Festival, starting Oct. 21. Hee hee.
August 18, 2006
More Gedo Senki
In response to Ursula K. Le Guin's comments about the Ghibli adaptation.
I saw Gedo Senki last month, and Le Guin is completely right about the film.
The short version: Ghibli has played loose with adaptations in the past, but (with the exception of Howl) they have all turned out wonderfully regardless. Gedo is not an excellent film. It's nowhere near the level of every single film Takahata and Miyazaki have made at Ghibli. It reminded me far too much of The Black Cauldron and other cliched animated films in this genre.
About her comments:
At that time, work had already started on the film: a copy of the poster of the child and the dragon was given us as a gift, and also a sketch of Hort Town by Mr Hayao and the finished version of it from the studio artists.
Apparently these were two of the earliest concept drawings on the film. Goro mentioned the Hort Town drawing as one of the only things his father contributed, and a major inspiration for the overall look of the film. I believe but am not sure that some of the drawing is on this poster.
The dragon and child drawing is on the official poster, and it was apparantly drawn entirely by Goro. Toshio Suzuki says that when Hayao was fuming about Goro's lack of artistic ability he showed Hayao this drawing, and told Hayao he liked it and that the studio would use it on a poster. That shut Hayao up real fast, because, according to Suzuki, Hayao Miyazaki never draws in profile.
I am told that Mr Hayao has not retired after all, but is now making another movie. This has increased my disappointment. I hope to put it behind me.
She has every right to be angry about this, and I think her response has been extremely restrained. Basically, she was led to believe that Hayao Miyazaki would be creating a new story in her fantasy world without touching her novels. Then she was told that Hayao was retiring and a new director would do the film. Then she heard that it would be an adaptation of a book after all. Finally, after the movie is made, she hears that Hayao Miyazaki is not actually retiring.
Generously, circumstances changed. But in fact it would be fair to say Ghibli simply lied to her, multiple times. She trusted them, and they betrayed her trust. I would be fuming if it were my work. But she's a very wise woman not given to temper.
Also, note that the only reason she aired her comments in public was because Goro revealed her private comment to him on his blog:
I did not realise that I was speaking to anyone but him and the few people around us. I would have preferred that a private reply to a private question not be made public. I mention it here only because Mr Goro has mentioned it in his blog.
Now the real juicy stuff.
Much of it was beautiful.
True. The dragon scenes were wonderful, as were the palaces and Hort Town.
Many corners were cut, however, in the animation of this quickly made film.
Also true. The final scenes include the gradual destruction of a castle tower. It is obvious which bricks are going to fall as they are inked in single shade and stand out from the background. This kind of thing happens many times throughout. It's the kind of quickie trick you'd expect from an episode of Duck Tales, not a feature film from the makers of Spirited Away.
It does not have the delicate accuracy of "Totoro" or the powerful and splendid richness of detail of "Spirited Away." The imagery is effective but often conventional.
Yes. I have not read The Farthest Shore, but from what I've heard the ending of that book is far more magical, surreal and meaningful than the film's ending, which is a very basic rehash of the climactic sword fight from every other sword 'n' sorcery animated film every made.
Much of it was, I thought, incoherent. This may be because I kept trying to find and follow the story of my books while watching an entirely different story, confusingly enacted by people with the same names as in my story, but with entirely different temperaments, histories, and destinies.
This is the one point where I will disagree with LeGuin. The film was perfectly coherent. But she fairly writes this off to her being the author of the book.
I think the film's "messages" seem a bit heavyhanded because, although often quoted quite closely from the books, the statements about life and death, the balance, etc., don't follow from character and action as they do in the books. However well meant, they aren't implicit in the story and the characters. They have not been "earned."
Absolutely right. The film has been pared down into a skeleton plot on which are hung these messages in dialogue. The murder of the king at the beginning by Arren is squandered, as not much is done with it other than to give Arren a reason to be a nervous wreck, which Le Guin also catches on to:
Arren's murder of his father in the film is unmotivated, arbitrary.
But here's the most interesting comment:
But in the film, evil has been comfortably externalized in a villain, the wizard Kumo/Cob, who can simply be killed, thus solving all problems.
In modern fantasy (literary or governmental), killing people is the usual solution to the so-called war between good and evil. My books are not conceived in terms of such a war, and offer no simple answers to simplistic questions.
This is interesting because it's precisely that complex view of good and evil that drew me to Ghibli in the first place with Princess Mononoke. Killing the gods is not the answer. Killing Eboshi is not the answer (and she is not an embodiment of evil-- not a villain, though she may be an antagonist). There is no easy way out in Miyazaki the elder's films. Which just makes Goro's butchering of Earthsea all the more tragic.
Though I think the dragons of my Earthsea are more beautiful, I admire the noble way Goro's dragons fold their wings. The animals of his imagination are seen with much tenderness -- I liked the horse-llama's expressive ears. I very much liked the scenes of plowing, drawing water, stabling the animals, and so on, which give the film an earthy and practical calmness -- a wise change of pace from constant conflict and "action". In them, at least, I recognised my Earthsea.
Yes, the domestic scenes were some of the best and most appealing in the film, recalling the joy with which Ghibli once animated normal families experiencing normal family life.
About Le Guin's comments to Goro: There's a rule in the theater. On opening night, everyone did a great job. It doesn't matter if you think they butchered the character and made every scene they appeared in look like a community theater production of Paul Simon. They did a great job, because they put themselves on the line. And I imagine it's the same kind of situation when a first-time director is presenting his adaptation of a book to one of the most loved (and intimidatingly so) fantasy authors in the world. If she had said, "Meh, wasn't so good," that would have been infinitely ruder from my point of view. And Goro Miyazaki, as a Japanese man, probably understands that better than most Americans do.
August 9, 2006
Gedo Senki, More Im Kwon-taek
My article on Gedo Senki's Korean release. It's a hard news piece, not a review, so I stick to quotes et cetera. But the movie itself wasn't as disappointing as I thought it would be. In fact I was fairly pleased with it. For a first-time animation director, Goro Miyazaki showed good range, and I can't recall a Ghibli hero quite like Arren in the past. The son who kills his father in the first five minutes is certainly an odd protagonist for the son who takes over directing from (and by all accounts dislikes) his father. The domestic scenes were a nice throwback to the calmer films of Ghibli's past that didn't feel the need to be so darned epic all the way through.
But the biggest flaw was the completely conventional climax, especially considering that by all accounts Le Guin's original is much more dramatic and exciting, and better suited to animation. Ah well. And what's with those falling bricks in the final scenes? What is this, a 1980s television cartoon? Come on, you guys can do better than that.
Also reviewed the DVD of Aje Aje Bara Aje (Come, Come, Come Upwards, the worst-sounding title translation I've heard in a while), another Im film. It's a thinker, and I don't think I quite had the time to understand it before I started writing, as you may notice. It's clearly an important film, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I have some of his others, particularly Seopyeonje.
Also finally finished Genshiken. Man, I wish my college anime club had been that much fun. The other college kids were great, but the obscenely obese 40-something local otakus who kept coming every week ruined it for everyone.