Euphoria #22: In the middle of nowhere…

Vincent Ranaldi, sci-fi and movie buff extraordinaire, suggests the opening journey from Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful SPIRITED AWAY as a prime example of Cinema Euphoria, the gift that keeps on giving.

I was into this guy before anybody! Anybody in Edinburgh, anyway. Me and my friends were into him, anyway, thanks to Kiyoyuki Murakami, who was our fellow student at Edinburgh College of Art. Back around 1990, none of Miyazaki’s movies had been translated and released in the west, except for bad dubs of LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND and CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (the standard-issue Japanime Cute Girl characters always sounded like Sunset  Strip hookers). Nobody had even heard of TOTORRO.

there goes the neighbourhood

Kiyo had VHS copies of most of Miyazaki’s work up to that point (PORCO ROSSO was the latest) and it was unbelievably amazing to us. I was blown away by the variations in pacing, unheard-of in American or European animation (VERY fast + VERY slow) and I loved Miyazaki’s skewed takes on British culture and landscapes (LAPUTA is purportedly inspired by Miyazaki’s visit to Yorkshire at the time of the ’80s miners’ strike, but to British audiences it’s still a bizarre Neverland). Simon Fraser, a cartoonist himself, as well as a film student, was captivated by the design as well as the storytelling.

Kiyo even produced episodes of LUPIN THE 3RD directed by Miyazaki, including one with a giant Spruce Goose aircraft that TRANSFORMS into an IRON GIANT, prefiguring the Ted Hughes Iron Man type robots from LAPUTA. (I’m guessing the title of that one, derived from Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, was altered to CASTLE IN THE SKY because the suits at Disney  realised that La Putais Spanish for “whore”). And there was really early stuff like PANDA KOPANDA, which is drawn in a completely different style from later Studio Ghibli stuff. The panda is a big friendly guy who sounds like an old wino.

wookie

None of this stuff had subtitles, so we coped with Kiyo’s minimalist live translations — as a Benshi film describer he was not quite as precise as David Wingrove, who is like a human babelfish converting European cinema into English as you watch — Kiyo would basically give a one-sentence summary of what had just passed in each scene. Miyazaki’s plots err towards the minimal and underexplained, so this was generally fine.

‘Why can’t Kiki fly anymore?’ we would ask.

‘Not, uh, really explained,’ said Kiyo.

So we would fall back on the stunning images to guide us.

The sense of place in H.M.’s films is always really strong. I’d love to visit the sparkling Mediterranean islands of PORCO ROSSO, the coastal town of KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, and especially the decayed island in the sky from LAPUTA.

swift island

SPIRITED AWAY opens with smart character intros but also a great landscape and a Lewis-Carrollian journey from everyday norm to a World of Fantasy and Strange Peril. It’s this magic evocation of place and time and noplace and notime that I think made Vince choose this sequence out of all Miyazaki’s work.

Footnote: have people out there seen GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES? Isn’t it AMAZING?

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2 Responses to “Euphoria #22: In the middle of nowhere…”

  1. It’s the sense of place that really makes Miyazaki for me: the landscapes feel familiar, like you’ve seen pictures of them or read about them, and they feel completely real, as if Miyazaki knows what’s down every byway and behind every door.

    I smile every time I think about Totorro.

  2. I even like the shameless genre conventions: the cute girl, the song at the end: “Ah, this’ll be the song, then.”

    I think HM said he made Totorro to show city kids what a country upbringing was like. He makes it look pretty attractive. I’m almost sure the cottage we stayed in on holiday when i was a kid had some of those little sooty round creatures in it.

    Had another Miyazaki request today from a student, so watch out for more soon.

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