Those of you with kids, and those of you who just love good movies, will want to stock up on tapes in January. Turner Classic Movies is airing a Ghibli film festival, and airing movies in both their American dub and Japanese subtitled versions.
Check it out:
Thursday, January 5
8:00pm: Spirited Away (2002 – English-language version)
10:15pm: Princess Mononoke (1997 – English-language version)
1:00am: Spirited Away (2002 – Japanese-language version)
3:15am: Princess Mononoke (1997 – Japanese-language version)
Thursday, January 12
8:00pm: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – English-language version)
10:00pm: Castle in the Sky (1986 – English-language version)
12:15am: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – Japanese-language version)
2:15am: Castle in the Sky (1986 – Japanese-language version)
Thursday, January 19
8:00pm: My Neighbor Totoro (1988 – English-language version)
9:30pm: Porco Rosso (1992 – English-language version)
11:15pm: Whisper of the Heart (1995 – English-language version)
1:15am: My Neighbor Totoro (1988 – Japanese-language version)
2:45am: Porco Rosso (1992 – Japanese-language version)
4:30am: Whisper of the Heart (1995 – Japanese-language version)
Thursday, January 26
8:00pm: Only Yesterday (1991 – Japanese-language version only)
10:15pm: Pom Poko (1994 – English-language version)
12:30am: Only Yesterday (1991 – Japanese-language version)
2:45am: Pom Poko (1994 – Japanese-language version)
So why watch the Japanese version?
Well, obviously the original voice cast is closer to the original intent. But that’s not the real issue. The silences are.
Although some dubs are just fine, dub producers have a tendency to want to fill silent or quiet moments with louder music or new songs or voice-over dialogue. This is unfortunate, because a good deal of the beauty and thoughtfulness of Japanese art and culture is in the spaces it leaves and the things it doesn’t say. Miyazaki and his compadres at Ghibli use such devices often; so their movies have tended to suffer from the American prejudice against “dead air”.
For example, Kiki’s Delivery Service (not being shown) featured a witch girl flying on her broomstick, traveling alone for the first time. In the original version, Miyazaki made much of the sound of flight — of the wind rushing past, and the sounds of the natural world around her. At one point, the silence got too much for her, so Kiki turned on one of those little transistor radios and listened to a defiant little Japanese pop song from the early sixties, complete with realistic static and tinny sound.
In the American version, the wind was replaced with loud soundtrack, and the song with a new sugary, overdidactic, self-esteem song by an American songwriter who can write better than this. Transistor sound and loneliness was not even attempted. The point of the whole scene was lost.
Spirited Away is of course the Oscar-winning story of a girl trapped in a Japanese resort in fairyland or the world of the Shinto gods. Either way, she has to work her butt off to get her name back, win back her parents, and get home. But hard work and cheerfulness will win her unexpected friends, even in this strange place….
Princess Mononoke is not a cartoon for kids. It is a Kurosawa movie, if Kurosawa worked in anime. It is a fantasy set in shogun-run Japan, about the needs of ordinary people versus the needs of nature, and how sometimes neither one is in the right. Watch it. Just realize that early on, heads will roll. Literally.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is okay for kids who are old enough for Harry Potter, I’d say. It’s an eco-science fiction movie of the sort we all remember from the seventies. (Post-nuclear war, check. Downfall of civilization, check. Devastated Earth, check. Chosen One, check.) Except that this time, an eco-science fiction movie is actually being made about people you’ll care about. (Including the “villains”.) Interesting things happen. Love and joy still exist, even in the midst of chaos. And through it all, Nausicaa flies like the fresh winds that preserve her valley. If you’ve only seen Warriors of the Wind, the chopped up version from the eighties, be sure to watch the uncut Nausicaa. It’s a whole new movie.
Castle in the Sky is an action/fantasy/science fiction/steampunk/air pirate/men in black kind of movie. You and your kids will love it.
My Neighbor Totoro is a must-see for kids and parents alike. For once, you’ll get to see a father who is capable, caring, and believes in his kids; and kids who love and trust their parents. A gentle fantasy set in 1950’s rural Japan, this movie is comfort food for pretty much all ages. (And you can tell your little ones that the mother gets better. She had TB, but she comes home from the hospital during the credits.)
Porco Rosso is the story of the Crimson Pig, a World War I ace cursed to look like a pig who now fights air pirates — for a price — while hiding out from Mussolini’s Fascist government. He’s cynical about the world, women, and himself — but is he really such a pig as he claims? Another fun film for all ages.
Whisper of the Heart is not by Miyazaki, but don’t miss it for that reason. I’ve never seen it myself, and am dying to do so. Set in the 70’s, it’s the story of a young Japanese girl (living in a suburb built over the same area we saw in My Neighbor Totoro) who is trying to find her place in the world. It’s not a fantasy movie. It’s not science fiction. It’s not action. It’s just about life.
Only Yesterday is another rarely seen non-Miyazaki Ghibli movie. It’s the story of a young Japanese woman who suddenly realizes that she has no home, and needs one. As she goes out to the country, she begins to remember her childhood in the sixties. She also begins working on getting herself a future that’s not all work. Again, it’s just a simple story about life.
Pom Poko is the last film in the festival. Also non-Miyazaki, and also set in the same place as My Neighbor Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, and bits of Spirited Away, it tells the story of what happened to the animals when the woods, mountains, and fields were destroyed and remade to provide a place for the suburb to be built. The tanuki (Japanese relatives of raccoons that look like bears, and are sometimes also called badgers) haven’t used their magical shapeshifting and illusion powers for a long time. But if the humans are going to attack them with bulldozers and starvation, they figure they may as well fight back! This hilarious and heartwrenching story mixes samurai drama conventions, Japanese folklore and folksongs, and urban fantasy to make a story that everyone will love. Yes, its humor is earthy. So was Shakespeare.
I should probably also point out that all these movies include a large dose of Shinto and a small dose of Buddhism. It’s not evangelistic — just a natural part of the characters’ lives. (Gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if prayer and going to church could be included in American stuff? Heck, anime includes more Christian moments than American TV….) I don’t think this should be a problem for anyone with well-formed religious beliefs. (Besides, Americans never seem to go for real pagan beliefs; just made up neo-pagan stuff and Buddhism.) Be prepared to answer kids’ questions, that’s all I’m saying. “That’s how some Japanese people pray” or “They don’t know the truth about God, so they don’t know any better than to worship God’s creatures” will probably be enough.