This retrospective includes five science-fiction and fantasy films directed by leading Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, linked by themes of flying, childhood, and communication between human and non-human worlds. Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984) is set a thousand years after the breakdown of industrial civilisation, as the people of a village near the radioactive Sea of Decay battle to preserve their way of life. Laputa Castle In The Sky (1986) involves a search for the floating island of the title. In My Neighbor Totoro (1988), a young family move to the countryside and make some surprising new friends. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) follows the adventures of a young witch-in-training. Porco Rosso (1992) stars a legendary flying ace who has been transformed into a pig.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Recent years have seen the successful release in Australia of Hayao Miyazaki’s two latest animated films, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Readers who caught either of these won’t need to be told that in the field of fantasy for children and adolescents Miyazaki is one of the all-time greats, on a par with Hans Christian Anderson or Tove Jansson (creator of the Moomins). His invented worlds, like Jansson’s, are filled with strange critters great and small: some benign, some less so, but all viewed with the same thoughtful respect.
For newcomers, two of the films in this retrospective of Miyazaki’s earlier work give some sense of the range of his talent. My Neighbour Totoro is a gentle story about two little girls who move to the country and encounter the cuddly god of the local forest: a large, sleepy creature who resembles a furry penguin crossed with Alice in Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat. Tranquil and minimally plotted, the film keys into a young child’s wondering acceptance of the surprises of nature; the delicately rendered landscapes contrast amusingly with the whimsically sketched characters (several give new meaning to the phrase “grinning from ear to ear”).
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, adapted by Miyazaki from his own thousand-page manga, is a film on a very different scale, the post-apocalyptic setting allowing the filmmaker to invent an entire new ecological system. Atomic mutation has given rise to splendidly imagined creatures like the Ohms – beetles the size of tanks, with scrabbling tentacles, horny carapaces and multiple eyes that blink like traffic lights.
Above all, Princess Nausicaä (voice of Sumi Shimamoto) is a truly inspiring (and ultimately Christ-like) heroine who puts Hollywood’s “girl power” mannequins to shame; her signal virtue isn’t her prowess as a warrior but the love and care she expends on all the creatures of this broken world, including so-called “monsters”.
Here as elsewhere, Mizayaki resists the equation of ugliness and evil so typical of Disney; there are few individual villains in his films, which tend to view destruction, however terrifying, as an inevitable part of nature. It’s this wisdom, both childlike and complex, that puts Miyazaki’s films in a class of their own, not only as family entertainment, but as parables worth contemplating at any age.
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Mausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
MIYAZAKI SHOWCASE (various)
PRODUCER: Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
SCRIPT: Hayao Miyazaki
RUNNING TIME: various
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: July 1; Brisbane July 29; Melbourne August 12; Adelaide August 26; Perth September 9, 2004.