Weird thought: What if Walt Disney had a contemporary, Japanese counterpart who not only wasn’t afraid to use his animation powers to highlight potent everyday issues, but also turned children’s literature and Japanese fairy tales into harrowing tales of death-defying wonder?
His name is Hayao Miyazaki, and he directed/wrote most of the movies showing this month in special screenings at the MFA. His company, Studio Ghibli, is basically the Japanese equivalent of Disney’s cartoon studios, except Japanese children’s movies apparently require more steampunk and zeppelins. Or something.
Look, we don’t know why there are so many flying machines, zombie-oozes and spunky teenagers running around in Ghibli movies. All we know is, it’s awesome.
Not to mention each film is a meticulously-crafted work of art, involving painted backgrounds, extensive mythologies, and coming-of-age stories woven in with comedy and horror elements. Basically, it’s one-of-a-kind art, and the MFA respect that. And we respect the MFA.
Lots of mad respect going on in here.
So, get your tuckus down to the Ghibli screenings this week. C’mon, you know deep down inside you’ve always wanted to see a pig-man in a World War I plane dive-bomb a bunch of inept, Mediterranean pirates.
Okay, maybe you haven’t.
But it’s still art.
And art is cool.
Our buddy Hayao sure likes his oceans and vaguely ocean-related metaphors. This film’s not so much about maritime adventures, though, as it is about being an adolescent growing up and dealing with The Big Issues in the modern world. While it lacks the usual explosions and adorable animal sidekicks seen in Ghibli films, Ocean Waves has plenty of great animation and some solid emotional impact. You could say that it. . . makes waves. Hang on, we have to go put a dollar in the Dig Office Pun Jar. Did we mention that Ocean Waves is rarely seen on this side of the Pacific? You should really go sea it.
Okay, okay, two dollars. . .
Remember Fern Gully? No? Okay, fair enough. Remember that movie where Robin Williams was some kind of Frankenstein-bat?
Yeah, we thought you might.
Well, toss all that shit out. Our Ghibli homeboys don’t play that way, yo.
Instead, put in three giant wolves hungry for human flesh, one demonically infested Christian Bale (depending on your dubs,) one army of samurai, and two, count ‘em two, freaky-ass nature gods. You now have a movie about one-tenth as awesome as Princess Mononoke. Arguably Miyazaki’s most famous work, this hard-hitting film is also one of Ghibli’s least kid-friendly movies.
People die. A lot. One dude gets his arm chopped off with an arrow. No, seriously. It’s metal as fuck.
Oh, and there’s a girl who thinks she’s a wolf. She’s also a princess. It’s complicated.
If your inner-child was just traumatized by that scene in Mononoke where the hero gets his spleen blown out by a primitive shotgun (Spoiler Alert), then this is the movie to curl up with and make the bad feelings go away. Yamadas is about as goofy and lighthearted as a cartoon can get, although it still has messages to deliver about the drawbacks of being lazy and irresponsible. Animated in a very un-Ghibli style, yet still a visual treat, Yamadas relies on watercolor fills to bring its goofy slacker characters to life.
The title’s a bit of a mouthful, huh? Yeah, well so’s your mom. Eponymously. (Sorry, we spent a lot of time on the Sex Issue and now we’re kind of stuck in euphemism mode.) Anyway, Nausicaa is your typical coming-of-age story: princess with a futuristic glider tries to save her post-apocalyptic paradise from the evils of the Atomic Age using nothing but her plucky spirit and the power of Nature itself.
Hey, wait, that doesn’t sound typical at all. That sounds fucking awesome.
Take a gander at it. (Hey, that’s what she said! Ohh, we are so witty.)
Masterminded by Ghibli’s Isao Takahata, this family-friendly story concerns a bunch of magical racoons whose homes are being decimated by apartment-developers. But instead of running away, they take the fight to the human race with sorcerous pranks. This cheeky tale is based on the Japanese legend of the tanuki, a badger-like spirit of the woods, and is a great example of nonviolent ways to take a stand against urbanization. By shapeshifting.
Hey, we never said the metaphorical applications were practical.
We weren’t kidding about the “pig in a plane” movie. That would be Porco Rosso: With more swashbuckling, daredevil flying, and World War I espionage than you can shake a pork rind at, Porco has both style and swag. The titular hero, an ace pilot cursed with the face of a pig, bounty hunts in the Mediterranean for a living. But when pirates gang up to threaten his livelihood, they leave him with one last option: Fisticuffs.
Lots and lots of fisticuffs.
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON
AVENUE OF THE ARTS
465 HUNTINGTON AVENUE
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS 02115-5523