Sunday, August 14, 2005


I know pitifully little about anime. My friend Doug, whose versatility ranges from being a Bresson expert to an animation connoisseur, turned me on to Hayao Miyazaki a while back. So far, I've seen Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. Most recently, I watched his 1988 film My Neighbor Totoro and was captivated, puzzled and a bit unsettled by it. (This, I have come to realize, is a typical and appropriate response to Miyazaki).

Two sisters, eight and fifteen, move to the countryside with their father, an anthropology professor, and make friends with a Totoro, a large forest spirit, that lives in a camphor tree. (Their father never questions or disbelieves them). Meanwhile, their mother is dying, probably of TB — this being the 1950's — and the girls adapt and adjust to their new rural home. The plot is not earth-shaking, and the movie is the better for it. In the most exciting scene, the sisters simply wait at a bus-stop in the night rain for their father, their colossal furry friend by their side. Overall, it's a far cry from the adrenalinized ride through the average American toon.

The way I see it, Nature is the central Miyazaki preoccupation. Not a cuddly-happy, big-bosomed-mother-nature utopia but instead Nature as a vast, mysterious, threatening, sometimes indifferent, sometimes cruel, but beautiful and vital living thing. Moody sky, wet fields, gleaming tadpoles, mountainous trees, creepy underbrush, growling lightning, kindly ghosts — these are the vivid images that Miyazaki wants to leave you with in lieu of elaborate plot and complex psyschology (though these latter elements are not absent).

In addition to Miyazaki, I've seen two films by Mamoru Oshii. One of them, Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence, is my favorite anime. I simply love its Godardian perpetual digressiveness, and it made me cry whoopee both times I saw it.

So, your favorite anime films and directors? And why?


Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

I almost always fall asleep watching anime. Two exceptions are Totoro and the anthology Robot Carnival. I usually enjoy the previews to the films more than watching the actual anime.

August 14, 2005 10:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Nicely put, Girish, I love your description of Nature in the films. Could you expand a bit on how you rwere unsettled by the film?

Apart from Miyazaki (my favorite of his is probably Nausicaa, but that may be partly because it was the first Miyazaki film I saw), my other two anime favorites are Grave of the Fireflies, an emotionally rich and historically significant masterpiece, and the mysterious, highly imaginative Haibane Renmei series. I couldn't recommend either highly enough.

August 14, 2005 12:20 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Doug, thanks for your recommendations. I know you've mentioned Haibane Renmei a couple of times to me before, and I'm especially eager to check it out.

I guess I find Miyazaki's vision of Nature a bit unsettling--and I use the word very favorably, not disparagingly:
One the one hand, he is an ecologically sensitive director who seems to firmly believe that "harmony with nature" is fast becoming an obsolete value in our world. That said, Nature in Totoro or Mononoke is not uniformly kind or protective but instead has a certain implacability, even occasional indifference or intractability in the face of the plight of humans, which is a bit disquieting. (I like this complex and not-always-romantic portrayal of Nature).

August 14, 2005 1:20 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

I'd recommend Grave Of The Fireflies as well. It's been quite a while since I've seen it, but if my memory serves correct, it's almost unbearably heartbreaking.

Other than that, I love what little Miyasaki I've seen (Spirited Away and Mononoke) and very much like the old standards, Ghost In The Shell and Akira, but I've never really been able to embrace anime - to the extent that, when Miyasaki's Howl's Moving Castle came and went in theates last month, I didn't really beat myself up too badly over it. I think it's a disinclination towards the general style and form of anime, more than anything else, that turns me off to it; because certainly, in the best cases (all the titles listed above included), the narratives and the ideas contained therein are pretty amazing.

August 14, 2005 11:40 PM  
Anonymous dvd said...

And I just mis-spelled Miyazaki's name twice in the same post, didn't I? Shame on me.

August 14, 2005 11:41 PM  
Blogger Booklad said...

Thanks for your blog on Miyazaki. He is a master filmmaker. And like a master his films deserve repeated viewings. We recently saw Howl's Moving Castle and Disney's "El Capitan" theater in the dubbed version and then went back the next week for the subtitled version. Disney finally got it right. The dubbed version, while anacronistic and over-simplified, is aided immensely by Jean Simmons first voice-over performance. She is brilliant.

Nausicaa is probably my favoirte with Laputa close behind. I'm so glad the films are finally making it to subtitled DVD's. An excellent book on Miyazaki (if you are interested) is "Hiyao Miyazaki:Master of Japanese Animation" by Helen McCarthy. Superb overview of his life and work up to Spirited Away.

A few other animes that I've watched many times:

Wings of Honneamise
Ninja Scroll
Vampire Princess Miyu
Dagger of Kamui
Grave of the Fireflies
Cowboy Bebob
Vampire Hunter D

August 15, 2005 2:02 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

I'm not that much into anime, though I do love Miyazaki's films. (Spirited Away is simply perfect.)

However, one anime series I strongly recommend is Serial Experiments: Lain. Imagine if David Lynch, William Gibson and Jean Baudrillard got together and created an animated series. Intelligent, moving, creepy -- it was one of the best things I saw in 2000.

August 15, 2005 10:53 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Well, I found Totoro slightly disturbing too, just because of the cat-bus: eyes that are headlights, a big toothy grin, a door that opens into its side.... I wondered, the first time the main character got in, if there would be a struggle when she tried to get out.

Other Miyazaki -- I guess I'm the only one here with a fondness for The Crimson Pig. But Totoro and Princess Mononoke are probably my favorites.

Aside from the Studio Ghibli films, Ghost in the Shell, and Akira I haven't seen any anime.

August 15, 2005 11:08 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Filmbrain, Yoshitoshi ABe designed the characters in Lain, and he was the main creative force behind Haibane Renmei. If you like your fantasies contemplative and philosophically-minded, I'd recommend it.

August 15, 2005 11:40 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

BTW Girish, you were in great company watching Totoro recently:

"On July 29th the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery woke to the theme music from My Neighbor Totoro. Preparing for his spacewalk that day, astronaut Soichi Noguchi (40) played a recording of his daughters singing "Sanpo" (Walk), the theme song to Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro. The recording was made at the Houston Japanese Language School and featured school girls, including Noguchi's daughters, singing the chorus."

August 16, 2005 11:00 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Doug, that's pretty wild...

August 18, 2005 2:05 PM  

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