Beyond the Earthsea

Besides its enchanting soundtrack and awesome dragons, I’m not sure what to say about Tales from Earthsea.

There's something sinisterly funny about this picture

I recently saw the DVD version of it, so keep in mind that I am probably missing out on some of the awesome visuals that Studio Ghibli lays on their viewers on a big screen at a higher resolution.

It’s definitely not a bad film per se. The lead male character is rather admirable for a change, carrying a bit of that Dilandu-complex with him. But the rest of the movie seemed a hodgepodge of Miyazaki troupes strewn together, sometimes without logic.

But maybe that’s enough. People dig Miyazaki’s stuff, so just as long as it seems like it people might like it? (Is this a form of bootlegging?)

There’s not a whole lot I can say about EarthSea that hasn’t been said–the apprentice son director, the disapproving father, the screening with the book series author, and the rest of the meta chronicle is on the internet more than a year ago.

That said, Earthsea is probably a fair shake and bake rendition of the original novels it adopted; not that I fault it (nor am I praising it), but it doesn’t add to the list of accolades your typical headlining Ghibli feature carry. Then again, I suppose no one really cared about Howl’s Moving Castle and how close it was to the book.

A general feeling of balance is tempered by an overwhelming feeling of indifference? Unlike Spirited Away, Earthsea was at least somewhat entertaining. But Earthsea surely is less artful, and that says a lot coming from a guy who wasn’t enchanted by Spirited Away either. I think I’ll refrain from comparing it with any more Hayao Miyazaki works…

8 Responses to “Beyond the Earthsea”

  • dm

    The film, with its massive stone architecture, bears little resemblance to island civilizations of Earthsea, but looks tons like Shuna no tabi, an illustrated novel written by Miyazaki pere in the early 80s. That novel has powerful images that have appeared in many some of the films Miyazaki has made since (the lonely fireside conversation among the ruins that we see in Princess Mononoke, and again in Gedo Senki, first appears there; the abandoned ship that Ged investigates appears there, and I think the magical moment where Howl captures a star in Howl’s moving castle is presaged there as well). It’s a shame that they didn’t decide to make an animated version of that story, with its sense of courage, loss, and love. They had the storyboards for most of it, they just used Le Guin’s names for things set in Shuna’s world.

    Still, if this was a first film from any other director, from any other studio, I think we’d be hailing it as a wonderful film. If this film had come out in the early 1990s, it would have been a major landmark in animation history, flawed as it is. But the anime world has moved on. Ground broken by Takahata and Miyazaki is now being harvested by Kon and Shinkai, who, in turn, are breaking new ground themselves, in preparation for a generation of directors who are watching their films, and learning.

    …And who are watching ef and learning, as well.

  • omo

    (It’s amusing that my adsense ads are sensible in this post, but obviously they’re linking to boots… )

    Anyways, the way you put things makes it seem like Goro Miyazaki is some neophyte director who probably was dying to make his own work years ago, but, lol, Miyazaki pere held him back and caused his current (well 1-2 years ago at least) to come out too late. And by doing that it stunned his growth as a director? Granted the Ghibli is a very strong trademark and on each major feature film rests the hopes and dreams of many, so it’s an epic undertaking worthy but the most crafty and sensible man to head each project…

    I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what to do. Ghibli is not some poor studio with no money. They should have some kind of developmental program to train up the next generation in-house. They have that…right? But well, thinking (out loud) about it only shows you I don’t really know what’s going on with the father-son politics and whatever.

  • dm

    Yes, they do have it — it produced Ocean Waves and Whisper of the Heart (though Miyazaki did the storyboards for the latter, I think). Unfortunately, the director of Whisper of the Heart died just after the film came out.

    I have a feeling that Miyazaki is not much of a mentor. I think Studio Ghibli alumni have gone on to have some success after leaving Studio Ghibli — Denno Coil has a couple of Ghibli alumni, for example. Hideaki Anno is also a Ghibli alumn, he did the God Solider in Nausicaa, and there’s a fan-rumor that Gendo Ikari was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki (which, if true, I guess sheds light both on Miyazaki’s skills as a mentor and poor Goro/Shinji).

    Howl’s moving castle was supposed to be made by a trainee-director (though one brought in from outside Studio Ghibli), but the first director quit early on, and Miyazaki took over.

    Production IG seems to have a more formal setup — Oshii, at least used to, lead lunch-time seminars where people would brainstorm ideas (these seminars had a cute title, but I don’t remember it — I guess it’s time to pick up a copy of Stray dog of anime). I think that led to things like Twilight Q 1 & 2, which were interesting (any fan of Angel’s Egg should seek out Twilight Q 2) and maybe led eventually to Jin-Roh and (at the opposite end of the spectrum, in that it doesn’t look like every other Production IG work) Windy Tales.

  • Owen S

    Playing Frankenstein with the source material was terrible, and didn’t do justice at all to Ursula’s texts. How badly this was handled coloured the viewing experience something fierce for me, but even if I had seen it tabula rasa I doubt I’d have found much going for it.

    The themes were terribly lacking in subtlety and ground into the viewer relentlessly, an issue I’ve never found in the few Miyazaki movies I’ve seen. Granted, this isn’t Miyazaki per se, but what dm said. Expect a post from me in the near future about it.

  • elvyse

    I’ve always had this feeling that Studio Ghibli wouldn’t be able to survive its creators Miyazaki and Takahata. Had he lived Yoshifumi Kondo might have taken it in another direction, but if you pay attention he was from the same generation having started to work in the field at about the same time and in the same teams. So it’s not a given.

    Studio Ghibli produces excellent technicians, but I’m not so sure about directors. Like omo said, there doesn’t seem to be any internal development program about it. Even if Anno worked at Ghibli, it doesn’t look like he learned his directing skills there, or if he did it wasn’t directly from Miyazaki himself (but maybe from observing him?). It’s a shame really. They appear to take the road of inviting external directors, but I’m not sure it’ll lead anywhere.

  • omo

    I think Kondou was my fav Ghibli director, just as a matter of “what’s your fav Ghibli films?” tally. But if you died at 47…talk about a waste of a “young” talent? Anime’s fate in the mainstream rests on a little old Japanese guy who’s not going to retire because he’s too elitist about it? FYI Hideaki Anno is just 48 years old this year, and look at what he’s done already. Kon and Shinkai are 3 years younger (and look at what they’ve done).

    Merf, I’d rather take Goro over Hayao any day. Even if it means seeing lesser Ghibli films in the short term…just because he’s probably not going to keel over in mid-production in the near future :) I mean, sure, we can lament about Kondou and how that screwed up Hayao Miyazaki and Ghibli’s long term plan, but that’s not an excuse.

    As far as training talents, it’s not something so clear cut that we can say so-and-so learned xyz from Ghibli. Career paths in these kinds of industries are winded and have a lot of turns. Satoshi Kon was a mangaka before he started making films, but I’m sure he draws from his manga drawing days today, for example. I think if you were to ask Anno personally he’ll definitely say something about applying something he learned there in his work today, but we wouldn’t know what exactly, and it’s not always something we can see.

    Owen: I think Goro grinds his moral axe no harder than Hayao, but it varies widely from film to film. Earthsea was no worse than Pompoko or even Mononoke when it comes to “subtle.”

  • dm

    That Kon was a manga-ka is pretty obvious from his storyboards. Such detail! It must take him forever to do them! (Though Miyazaki’s storyboards are pretty detailed, too. Anno’s and Tatsuo Sato’s, in contrast, are pretty slap-dash).

    (And Pompoko was Takahata, but I’m sure you knew that. I agree on the question of subtlety.)

  • omo

    I think Kon’s detailed storyboarding comes more from the type of director that he is, and the kind of projects they work on (movies vs tv shows). Anno works mostly with TV shows, which are much more demanding from the time perspective. Plus he probably works with people who are familiar with his style and are also pretty good at doing what he’s doing (Kazuya Tsurumaki is definitely a next gen star…). Kon, OTOH, is already an admitted control freak in numerous interviews in terms of the degree of control he exercises over the medium as an animator (I think he says, rather, that’s one advantage animation has over live action). The detailed storyboard is merely a tool he uses to show whatever he wants us to see, in its glorious detail. Being a mangaka means you have to write your own stories and, well, do storyboarding. Plus Kon’s just got more time, even if he can probably draw just as fast :)

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