This is my sixth installment of my “Month of Miyazaki” where I take the month of August to examine and review some of the films of legendary director and writer Hayao Miyazaki. This film has flown right over my head, both in context of the movie and in hype. It is the tale of a young witch who sets out to find her own way in life, and meet new people. This is Kiki’s Delivery Service. I say this film flew over my head because when I was young this film aired on cartoon network all the time and I never knew. This week was my first time watching Kiki, and it was a pleasant experience.
Kiki is a young witch living out in the country. Her mother makes potions and her father seems like an average desk jockey, making me wonder how their relationship ever started. Kiki has just turned 13, and according to witch customs, must venture out into the world for a year to train and become a full-fledged witch. After stumbling into the city, she finds a nice woman who owns a bakery that lets her stay in the attic. Soon after she moves in, she decides to start up a flying delivery service where she delivers packages by riding her broom, creating Kiki’s Flying Delivery Service. On a side note, I like how everyone in this world is either amazed that she can fly, or is totally accepting of it; it makes for some nice comedy.
This film is a lot like My Neighbor Totoro where the focus is not on the plot, but rather the environment and characters. Kiki is a very short film with a very simple plot and message; be yourself and find your own happiness, but it is a very heartwarming film. Kiki never battles any monsters or faces any big foe; she just has to overcome her own insecurities to find out what she wants. The delivery (no pun intended) is very simple, but effective. If these films were to be put into categories, I would say Kiki belongs in the innocent whimsy section of Miyazaki rather than the epic fantasies of Mononoke and Spirited Away.
This is my fifth installment of my “Month of Miyazaki” where I take the month of August to examine the works of legendary director and writer, Hayao Miyazaki. Today’s film is a strange one (even for Miyazaki) because instead of taking place in a far off world of magic and wonder, this film is set in a house out in the Japanese countryside. There are no spirits or witches here, but instead something much more subtle; a family of little people. No, I am not using the politically correct term “little people”, instead I mean literal little tiny people who live in the walls and beneath the floorboards. This is the Secret World of Arrietty.
Now for the sake of this review I will only stick to the movie, as I have not read the book. “The Borrowers” was written by Mary Norton in 1952 and follows a family of Borrowers named Pod, Homily and Arrietty. The film follows the same three characters and they are in the same situation, living under the floorboards of house of the humans. The borrowers survive by “borrowing” items that the humans will not miss. Examples include a cube of sugar and a sheet of tissue paper.
Arrietty is a fourteen year old borrower who is excited to go on her first borrowing with her father Pod. Obviously excited, Arrietty is ready and willing to help the family out. However, during her first adventure she is seen by a young boy who is visiting due to his illness. This spells trouble for the borrowers because once they have been discovered, they must move out. Despite this, Arrietty manages to befriend the boy (named Sho), and they must work together to protect her family from others who might do them harm.
We see how the tiny people have transformed the world around them to their advantage; making bridges made of nails and ladders out of staples. Seeing things from their perspective changes the world drastically. The very act of scaling down a kitchen shelf is like scaling down the side of a cliff. Even removing the top of their home (a wooden box in the floorboards) is like an earthquake to them, and we feel that from their view. It makes a mundane (but still beautifully animated) environment and transforms it into a whole new world. Like other Miyazaki films, the world is just as much a part of the experience as the plot. From the way the borrowers survive, to the inventions they create using everyday objects; this film is reminiscent of other small scale adventures such as “Secrets of Nihm” and even “A Bug’s Life”. I enjoyed all this film had to offer, and look forward to watching it again.
This is my fourth installment of “A Month of Miyazaki” where I take the month of August and examine selected works from legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. Today’s pick is a little different from the other Miyazaki movies. This is one of his earliest feature films, and we start to see the development of his unique visuals as well as his trade mark tropes. This film has been hailed as a masterpiece, but when put under a microscope and when compared to other more famous Miyazaki films, the flaws of this film start to show. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I did enjoy this movie very much. The admission of flaws does not take away from the fact that this film is still pretty great. I would argue in fact, that the true mark of any fan is to admit that everything Miyazaki makes isn’t perfect. With that said let’s sail through the skies and into the world of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world where mankind is threatened with extinction by a toxic jungle filled with poisonous plants and giant insects. Enter Princess Nausicaa from the Valley of the Wind. Unlike your average Disney Princess, Nausicaa is a very active and take-charge character with an adventurous spirit and kick butt attitude. She helps her people who live in sort of a Fertile Crescent valley, with the wind protecting them from any poisonous spores. For the first twenty minutes of the film it seems all is fine and well. We even get a prophesy about a chosen one that will lead mankind to peace. However, everything changes when warring kingdoms bring trouble to the once peaceful valley, bringing the giant insects and poison with them. It is up to Nausicaa to stop the violence between the kingdoms, and between mankind and nature.
So almost every Hayo Miyazaki movie has three main components; a female protagonist, a pro-nature/anti-violence message, and a strong and unique fantasy element. Each film has combined these elements in a different way, but Nausicaa seems to blend all of these together into one character. It should come as no surprise that Nuasicaa is in fact the fabled hero who will lead mankind out of the darkness (the figure will be wearing blue and walk through fields of gold). I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing, and it’s not, but Nuasicaa just seems too perfect. Throughout the whole movie the characters speak so highly of her and she herself does no wrong, that by the end I found myself saying “I get it, you’re Jesus,”
Despite her character, I still think Nuasicaa is a fine character because she wasn’t intended to be the messiah of the people. In fact the original legend says the figure would be a man. Nuasicaa does what she does because she wants the hate and violence to stop, not because she has to as some self-imposed messiah, but because she thinks it is simply the right thing to do. This is what saves the character in my opinion. If this were any other film Nuasicaa would know she is the chosen one and then try to act the part the whole movie…which would have been lame.
Nuasicaa is Hayao Miyazaki’s first feature length film that he wrote and directed. Here we can see the building blocks of what would eventually become his signature style. However, he has not escaped all the science fiction/ anime tropes of the 1980’s. For starters, the music in this film does not fit the mood half the time. I found myself thrown out of the experience saying “I can definitely tell this is an 80’s movie,” and my friends would ask why. The over use of synth kills the mood and pacing, but those are far and few enough between that I can forgive it. While not the best movie in Miyazaki’s filmography, I definitely enjoyed myself. This film gives us a look at Miyazaki’s earliest work, and that is an experience all its own. The next review will be posted Friday on time, but until then, I am Zack the Wizard, catchphrase in progress.