Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Ghibli education.

Update: It turned out the USB Pet Rock I talked about last week was, in fact, an April Fool's joke. It's just as well. I'm not sure I need more tchotchkes.

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I suspect if you mention Studio Ghibli to most Americans, you'll get a blank look in return. But the movie studio is famous in Japan, as well as among American fans of Japanese anime (pronounced AN-ih-may). Founded in 1985 by directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, it has released 21 animated feature films. The studio went on hiatus a few years back when Miyazaki retired, but he has since come out of retirement to direct a new film called How Do Your Live? It's due for release in 2020.

However, this past week, Takahata died at the age of 82.

My daughters Kat and Amy have been fans of Studio Ghibli's work since they watched My Neighbor Totoro at a friend's house when they were kids. Recently, they've been purchasing Blu-Rays of their favorites, and since I'd only seen a couple of the studio's films, I've been watching them along with the girls.

Although Disney has the rights to release these movies on disc in the United States, these are not Disney-type films -- and not just because of their distinctive animation style. Some are kiddie movies -- My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo come immediately to mind -- but in many cases, the story lines are richer and more complex than your average Disney flick. And while the protagonists are often youngsters, the movies can certainly be enjoyed by adults.

Tonight, for instance, we watched Castle in the Sky, Studio Ghibli's first movie, directed by Miyazaki and produced by Takahata. A young girl falls falls from the sky into the arms of an engineer's apprentice. The girl, Sheeta, wears a magical crystal that protects her. That crystal is the McGuffin that everyone is after -- the military, a family of pirates, and a shady fellow who may or may not be working with the government -- because it's a link to a legendary floating castle called Laputa. Lots of hair-raising action ensues, much of it high in the sky. Think of it as a cross between Indiana Jones and steampunk.

Studio Ghibli's movies are decidedly Japanese. The Wind Rises is about an aviation engineer who designed the Zero fighter plane that Japan used in World War II. Of course, he was a hero in Japan -- not so much in the US. A lighter example is the No-Face in Spirited Away, a stock character from kabuki theater whose cultural relevance I'm still trying to figure out.

We have a few more Studio Ghibli Blu-Rays to see, including their version of Ursula LeGuin's Tales from Earthsea. I'm looking forward to seeing them.

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One more update: My memoir project is moving ahead. Mom's House went out to my editors and beta readers this weekend. Stay tuned for more updates.

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These moments of animated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell


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