& We Shall Praise Eternal His Glorious Return! – Miyazaki comes out of retirement (kinda)

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After having pulled the trick before, Miyazaki announces that he is coming out of retirement to make more animation!

Kinda.

Sorta.

Not really. . .

Miyazaki, known for his dislike for computer generated images in his works, has announced that he is working on a 10 minute 3D animation to be screen at the Studio Ghibli Museum with a possible public release after that.

The production, despite only lasting 10 minutes, is expected to take 3 years to make.

In the mean time, Studio Ghibli has had the director of the criminally underrated When Marnie Was Here Hiromasa Yonebayashi has returned to the company to make his next feature film. They are also co-producing a new featured called The Red Turtle with a European animation company.

Studio Ghibli has also teamed up once against with Japanese game company Level-5 to produce a sequel to the fantastic but flawed J-RPG Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch from 2011, simply called Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom due out this year on the PS4.

Check out the trailer here:

 

In the meantime, we hope that Miyazaki will grace us with another full length feature, even though The Wind Rises was a great film to finish on.

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On The Returning

Once again, this blog is not dead. I’ve just been swamped by real life, including several months without proper internet access (no home connection, only using wireless broadband) after moving across my country & have been desperately trying to catch up on things that the absence of internet left me -such as 3 seasons of anime, my own work & current pop culture trends.

But the main reason for my lack of posts has been this: http://the-shadow298.deviantart.com/art/Spirit-Self-Wings-Freedom-Shadow-s-thesis-comp-564868542

This is my Master’s thesis that I have worked on for the past two years.

It’s about Miyazaki Hayao’s relationship to soft power, in how he subverts government efforts of agendarisation & control through his own films (primarily discussing Porco Rosso & Spirited Away).

So, BANZAI for it’s completion!

HOOOORAY!!!
HOOOORAY!!!

I’ll also be making some changes to the blog.

I’ll be doing interviews with people known within the geek community & with some actors as well. The first of which shall be a little known actress whom some of you may have seen a lot of of last year in historical medical drama The Knick.

I’ve also started a Patreon page to help me acquire the materials to help me work & to enbiggen the blog somewhat.

You can support me via this link https://www.patreon.com/andthegeekshall but will try to set up a widget too.

Have a heap of things to post up, so will try to get to it soon.

Will keep this active as much as humanly possible.

Don’t panic! Studio Ghibli remains open!

Lots of Western geeks & otaku have been in a tither due to news that the animation temple of Japan, Studio Ghibli, confounded by the legendary Miyazaki Hayao, is either shutting its door or dropping film production in favour quicker, less expensive ventures such as television broadcast anime.
That is false.
Studio Ghibli is remaining open for the foreseeable future & continuing with several productions – including a new anime series, Robin the Bandit, from Miyazaki Goro, Hayao’s son, to screen later this year.
The rumour started based upon an overeager mistranslation of a television interview, where people interpreted the word “pause” for the term to cease or stop. Everything steamrolled from there, with geeks doing their typical thing if finding patterns & meaning where there is none by pouring over recent interviews with Miyazaki & other Ghibli staff combio with poor box office from recent Ghibli productions.
So, dry your tears, geeks everywhere, you still have one of your anime institution as well as the promise if future films -including ones written by Miyazaki himself.

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Random: w00t for my Academic Internet Wang Size!

Just found out that my article for The Conversation is their 5th most popular article for the past month with 2,164 views.

If you are yet to read the article, you can find it HERE.

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academic article: Miyazaki -life and legacy

Here is the completed and [heavily] edited version of the article on Miyazaki that I co-authored.

It’s not great but it’s a good first step on the road to more proper academic publication.

Please give any feedback if you do read.

http://theconversation.com/miyazakis-legacy-is-sure-to-live-on-whether-or-not-he-retires-23780

& So the Heart Doth Rise – anime critique: The Wind Rises by Miyazaki Hayao

Title: The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)
Genre: historical, magical realism, romance
Director: Miyazaki Hayao
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release: 2014 (Australia, 2013 in Japan)
Distro: Hopscotch & Madman

TWR MM
The 11th & possibly final film directed by the legendary auteur Miyazaki Hayao, The Wind Rises comes with the weight of a lot of expectation.

But does the film answer that expectation?

No, not for everyone.

If so, why would that be?

I personally feel that people approaching this film are expecting more of Miyazaki’s fantastic whimsical and magical stories, like My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away. Whereas the Wind Rises is a biography lashed with romance and dreamscapes. Many fans have felt as though this is, at least, a departure &, at worst, a betrayal of their love of & expectations from him. But if they approach the film as a beautiful melodrama with touches of the phantasmal, then they should find it most acceptable.

What the film is, is an indulgence.

It is an unrepentant ode to Miyazaki’s love of airplanes, with so much time spent on the tiniest detail of the machines. Truly, if Miyazaki could have made a film just about planes, without humans involved, he would have. What he did produce is a story about what happens to a man who sells his soul, so to speak, in order to follow his dream -believing that if he gives his clients what they want, they’ll let him eventually made what he wants. This is the fate of the fictionalised version of Horikoshi Jiro, the eventually creator of the A6M Zero fighter plane as he works to becoming an aeronautical engineer.

The film is also an ode to classic film making.

From the opening moments it reminded greatly of my favourite Kurosawa Akira‘s film, Dreams (1990). That is because the narrative blends the real world with dreams without telling you at any point which is which. Both worlds blend seamless and even overlap with the realities of others. As the young Jiro meets the famed Italian airplane designer Count Caproni in a place that Caproni calls his own dream, even though Jiro believes that he is the one who is dreaming. This theme of the transcendental nature of, & trespassing into, dreams is a major part of the film.

The rest of the film, unfortunately, has garnered an exceptional amount of criticism and fan debate -both in Japan & internationally.

The plot being centred on the creator of a vicious war machine, the Zero fighter, has stirred up much resentment in China & Korea with the Japanese government’s refusal to acknowledge their past war atrocities. Yet at the same time, many people in Japan are attacking Miyazaki for having his characters say that it was a mistake to have sided with Germany & entered the war.

Yet the film is not a true glorification or damnation of history, war and the darkest aspects of humanity.

It is a dream & shows what can happen to a life when one follows their dream too ardently.

Yet this film is entirely beautiful.

Truly, it is the single best piece of film animation ever produced.

This is where Miyazaki’s other indulgence, his love of cinema and animation, truly shines through.

There is so much detail lavished within each frame and cells of this film. From the quivering of the glass as a train leaves the station to the shimmers on the water & the wavering of each individual blade of grass.

Nothing is spared in order to bring out the details, the colours & the characters. The differences between dawn & dusk. Even the very flames of destruction.

The scene depicting the Great Kanto Earthquake (an actually event in 1923, where thousands of people died & Tokyo was almost completely destroyed) is magical in its devastation.

The sound of the movement, supposedly echoing the Great Catfish upon which the land of Japan lies as it trashed about to cause the quake, blends perfectly with the bubbling, rolling ground. The scene is brutal but not violent, tense but no sense of inherent danger. The fantastical way that Miyazaki and his animators show the Great Earthquake does not in any way strip away the devastation that it caused. It was from this earthquake that Japan’s drive to modernise, rushing it into modernity from a feudal society. Sparking much excitement & tension within the nation, especially as they attempted to compete technologically with the rest of the world.

The same could be said for the flight scenes and dream sequences. So full of life & energy as well as truly beautiful animation.

Sadly, that does not mean that the film, at over 2 hours, flies by (chortle at pun).

If you are expecting an adventure you will be disappointed.

The film follows Jiro at vital points of his life, never indicating when time has skipped forward (similar to how it does with the dream sequences) but it often does not want to engender the narrative with action & drama for the sake of it.

The late romantic angle, which is referring to many Japanese dramas about around the “love in the time of TB” cliché, does drag the film down in terms of pacing but not once did I think that the emotion between Jiro & Nahoko was disingenuine.

In fact, despite the fanciful & rushed nature of their love, I honestly felt the romance & affection between them.

THE WIND RISES. © 2013 Nibariki - GNDHDDTK
It is unfortunately that Nahoko is not a very strong female character, especially in regards to Miyazaki’s usual protagonists. This is partly because, after appearing in the Earthquake scene, she doesn’t appear until the final 3rd of the film. The reveal of her condition & confession to love also felt very clumsy -like an entire arc had been removed from the narrative.

This can be said for other side characters. Especially Jiro’s younger sister, Maya, who appears early in the film & then doesn’t feature until the 3rd act, having achieved her personal dreams but still chastising her brother for his lack of consideration. This is done out of love but she is an anchor meant to keep him from being dragged away by his dreams but she doesn’t appear within the film enough to complete that function or even develop in any great way.

Yet she & the other side characters are rendered well in a way. Both their physical depictions & the outline of their personalities.

An example is the strange foreign man (revealed to be a former Germany engineer who had seen Jiro at the Junkers factor many years before), whom you don’t know if he only speaks to Jiro in dreams. He has a strange walleyed appearance & speaks in broken Japanese, as a genuine foreigner of the time would. The man, later identified in a letter as Mr Castorp, tells Jiro his personal dislike for Hitler & German’s war ambitions, saying if Japan follows, it too will burn like Germany will. He then disappears like he was merely Jiro dreaming that the hotel guest was speaking to him but he then appears in later scenes as he attempts to help Jiro understand his feelings for Nahoko.

The action after that with the secret police is confusing & remained unsolved but it showed the human character of Jiro’s superiors at the aeroplane factory. They vow to protect him, as long as he can still provide them with what they need -a new fighter to win the navy contract.

If this was an 80’s American screwballs comedy, the dwarvish supervisor Kurokawa would’ve become the bullying antagonist seeking to destroy out heroes dreams. Instead he acts like a genuine supervisor would, chastising when wrong is down but supporting at other times. In fact, his insistence that Nahoko & Jiro have a proper wedding, despite the lack of family nearby, is one of the most touching moments in the film.

There are many touching moments within the film. The ending nearly had me in tears (I’ve only ever cried once in a film & that was when Optiums Prime died in the Transformers movie of 1986).

There are some nice subtle references to some of Miyazaki’s previous films -such as Porco Rosso’s pilots’ heaven- but not as many as I would have liked. But, on balance, if it was a reference fest being a final film, I think that would’ve really annoyed me.

In the end, The Wind Rises is an exceptionally good film. It just isn’t a good Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film.

It is overly long, exceptionally indulgent, confusing in terms of chronology, characters and location but, with all that being said, it still is an incredible film.

As I said early in the review, if you look at it along the lines of a classic melodrama from the likes of Kurosawa, not expecting the usual Ghibli fantasy, then you can view it as a truly beautiful film.

It is something that I will be returning for other works, both personal and academical, because it has exceptional merit for that.

It is a good film for one to end a career with but probably not the film that Miyazaki should’ve ended his with. Supposedly he wanted to do a follow up to Ponyo but I do feel that going with another original idea was a better path to follow.

Still I, like so many other Miyazaki fans, would still love to see a final final work from the great master. He may never direct again, but he is still working on manga & writing scripts. All that we can truly hope is that Studio Ghibli will carry on his fine legacy & continue producing top quality films with interesting, challenging themes & characters that we can instantly love.

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Academic article: Miyazaki: the Man, the Mould & The Machinations

This is the raw draft of an academic article I’m writing for publication. It’s basically 1,200 words over the limit, so needs to be cut down.

the topic itself is on famed animator & head of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki Hayao. A brief bio & examples of his works, themes & influences.

It’s a rambled mess but they wanted a conversational style aimed at the not exceptionally bright & this does mimic how I talk (asides & all).

Anyway, please give feedback if you have any.


Miyazaki: the Man, the Mould & the Machinations
by
Shadow & Craig Norris

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If you were to ask any involved with media/cultural studies -be they academic, critic or pop culture consumer- the question: “Who is the greatest creator of animation the world has ever produced?”, their answer would all undoubtably “Miyazaki Hayao”.

Miyazaki strides the world of film & animation like a titan of old. Garnering such titles as “The God of anime”, the “godfather of animated cinema” & “the Walt Disney of the East”. Yet, in his humbleness, he rejects such titles.

Miyazaki’s presence in the filmography is felt the world over by fans & creators alike. To a level that many of his works are considered one of the greatest factors upon the mass consumption of Japanese media on a global level, allowing for a greater awareness of, & desire for, Japanese media products.

It has been argued for over three decades that he is the one who has set the mould for anime films, to those who wish to create such art & to those consider themselves devotees of such cinematic art forms.

Yet, to understand why, you must first understand the man, the mould that he made & the machinations behind his works.

Miyazaki the Man:

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Miyazaki Hayao was born in 1941, the son of the director of Miyazaki Airplane, who made parts for the Zero fighter plane. It was this early life that sparked Miyazaki’s constant interest in airplanes, flight & the freedom that it brings. The fact that his family made parts for the Zero was also the reason for the subject of his final film as director The Wind Rises (2013), which is the story of Hirokoshi Jiro who created the Zero.

Due to his family’s affluence & military connections, Miyazaki says that he was able to live out the war in relative comfort but he says that witnessing the firebombing of the town of Utsunomiya affected him greatly for the rest of his life. During a 1988 lecture, he said how his family’s callous abandonment of people feeling that burning town gave him the resolve to become a compassionate individual, a theme that permeates his work. During the release of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) he also told how the image of the burning sky scarred him for life, leading to the creation of the apocalyptic war scenes in his first independent feature      Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), which were revisited in Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986) & Howl’s Moving Castle.

In his early teens, Miyazaki said that his single greatest influence was the godfather of manga, Tezuka Osamu (creator of Astro Boy). Miyazaki focussed all of his energy into becoming a manga artist but destroyed all of his early works, calling them “a poor copy of Tezuka-sensei”. Still wanting to be creative but at a loss what to do, Miyazaki saw the animated feature Hakujaden (1958) (Tale of the White Serpent), which made him fall in love with both the heroine of the film & animation in general. Realising that if he wanted to be an animator he would need to learn to draw the human body better, Miyazaki returned to his manga work.

After graduating university with degrees in political science & economics, Miyazaki began working low level jobs in the anime industry, writing & co-directing several TV series, such as very adult Lupin III. Eventually, after much labour, he managed to be given his first film directing job, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), a movie adaptation of Lupin III. It was this film that directors such as Steven Spielberg says put Miyazaki on the map as a writer & director of animated features.

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His next film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (based upon his own manga), about a girl trying to heal a world broken by fiery holocaust, propelled Miyazaki into mainstream fame as a director in Japan -even if he only managed cult status in the West for many years. Each new release was eagerly awaited by his growing fan base until 1999, when he released Spirited Away, which pushed him into the mainstream international spotlight.

Miyazaki has made only made 3 feature films since there (making a total of 11 features) but each broke new box office records.

In 2013, he announced his retirement from feature film making with his final release The Wind Rises but his close friend & frequent collaborator Takahata Isao (maker of the heart wrenching film The Grave of Fireflies) wearly says that Miyazaki will never be able to keep away from film making no matter how old he gets.

The Mould Miyazaki Made:

Few would argue over how influential Miyazaki has been in nearly four decades in animation -everyone from members of Disney-Pixar to comic writers such as Grant Morrison & Bryan Lee O’Malley to writer/illustrator Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) but what have been some of the influences upon Miyazaki himself?

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miyazaki has an exception passion for foreign literature, art & philosophy. Preferring them over many Japanese works, even collecting books in both English & Japanese.

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He’s often spoken about his love of Western fantasy & European fairytales. Once telling the author Ursula le Guin that he keeps a copy of her books by his bed so he can read whenever he gets the urge.

Miyazaki has also shown a great love of such classics as The Wizard of Oz & Alice In Wonderland -although both books (& their various adaptations) are surprisingly popular in Japan. Miyazaki tends to pepper his films with references to them, such as Chihiro’s trans-world journey in Spirited Away.

The Machinations of Miyazaki:

One of Miyazaki’s most famous & enduring qualities is his use of various social, political & spiritual as well as visual themes through his films. Many consider the most obvious to be his staunch environmentalism, as seen in Nausicaä & Princess Mononoke (1997) as well as his love for aircraft & flight -which are central themes for Laputa, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) & Porco Rosso (1992).

Though what is slightly more skirted over is Miyazaki’s humanist approach, his idealisation of community & human connection -to each other, to nature & to the spiritual world. Some have argued that this stems from his aforementioned experiences during WW2 & the following American occupation but it extends deeper than that.

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His films Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away explore the dehumanisation nature of material obsession & extreme Capitalism; how they affect our connection with the natural & spiritual worlds as well as divorce us from our sense of community & connectivity with other people. Such themes are echoed in Porco Rosso & Howl’s Moving Castle but they focus more on the negative transformations caused by war & other conflict (something that Princess Mononoke also addresses with the Forest Spirit Boar turning into a demon).

Miyazaki’s proposed solution to such dehumanisation & disconnection is determination through hard work, stoicism & forcing oneself through difficult situations to arrive at a point of growth. Yet never to do such things in isolation.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miyazaki openly rejects the machoness of many male anime characters, which focuses on the strong being alone because they are strong. He believes that people can only become whole once they accept others, especially outsiders, into their lives.

Miyazaki’s other form of rejection of anime tropes & cliches comes in his use of female protagonists. Unlike so many other depictions of female characters in Japanese media, especially in the girls only genre known as shojo, Miyazaki refuses to sexualise, victimise or belittle his female protagonist (of which are more numerous than male protagonists in his filmography). In fact, Japanese media expert Susan J. Napier cites Miyazaki’s ability to create female characters who “are remarkable for taking charge of their own lives” as one of the primary reason for the popularity of his films.

What makes Miyazaki’s female protagonists different from others is that first & foremost he treats them as real people. Miyazaki has previously stated that if there is no genuineness in any of your characters, no matter how strange or fantastical, then the audience will not connect with them. So in creating characters such as San (Princess Mononoke) or Chihiro (Spirited Away) or even Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service) he starts with them as being real girls who go on a journey to find a lost connection. With San it’s her lost humanity, Chihiro is her lost sense of spirituality & Kiki has to discover her own confidence. Such journeys can be see in all of his female protagonists & why they appeal so much to an audience is that they start the narrative with a solid grounding in reality. Be it a physical place that they are removed from or the necessities of the “Hero’s Journey” that pushes them into adventure, Miyazaki always attempts to make them as real as possible, even with the limitations of narrative need.

Both fan & academics argue as to why he puts so much emphasis on female protagonists over traditional male ones. One reason can be given in that it comes from the influences of such stories as Alice In Wonderland & the works of authors like le Guin & Diana Wynne Jones (who wrote the original novel of Howl’s Moving Castle) all of whom put female characters at the centre of their narratives.

The other reason is because he wishes to challenge many traditional Japanese societal values; the role of women being primary amongst them.

This stems from the belief that post WWII, women in narrative were seen as an echo of the nation itself: fragile & in need of support because they were beset by trauma outside of themselves.

Where as Miyazaki has female protagonists beset by issues but never needed to be protected from them. That is because they are able to draw on their own inner strength as well as the strength of the people around them &, by extension, the further community as well. Such as with Sheeta from Luputa receiving support & encouragement to emotionally grow from the pirate Dota & her sons.

This sort of narrative & character driven challenge reflects the other challenges that Miyazaki throws at society as a whole.

Many critics & academics often view Miyazaki and works as conservative & driven by feelings of nostalgia.

That could honestly not be further from the truth.

Miyazaki has regularly stated that he stands against ideas of false nostalgia or nostalgia for its own sake -such as the ones that the Japanese government has attempted to foster over the past 16 years. Miyazaki is someone who believes that true traditions, such as connection with the animist spirits of nature, should not be abandoned. Nor should people destroy themselves & the world through pointless aggression or to become slaves to the machines of Capitalism. What he & his works hark back to are notions of tradition but ones that are known globally.

He says that modernity should not come at the cost of nature, our spirituality or community but he also believes that there is no sin in using technology. His use of aircraft & other forms of mechanisation & engines is proof enough of that. His belief is that technology must be a positivist things, free of aggression or destructive potential. It is not technoloy that is evil, just those who wield it.

This too can be seen in the animation style of both Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli.

Many people have criticised Miyazaki’s non-use of CGI as being that of a man being afraid of technology & modernity but that could not be further from the truth.

It is a two fold approach founded in very simple concepts.

Firstly: that of expression. The belief being that reliance of CGI strips the magic an audience can take from watching the nuances of the image play upon the screen. That it removes that level of the suspension of disbelief & thus a sense of wonder. Especially in regards to the fine detail of characters’ expression & how an audience can read & relate to them. Studio Ghibli is known for the quality & depth of their expressions & this leads directly into the second point.

Which is, secondly: it is a form of branding. A way of setting up a form of animation authenticity to distinguish the works of Studio Ghibli from those of other production houses such as Gainax (creators of the Neon Gensis Evangelion franchise) & even Disney. By using traditional animation techniques & bringing them up to a level of CGI productions Studio Ghibli is engaging in a form of branding & one-upmanship with other studios.

This can even in his final production, The Wind Rises, which starts in Japan at the turn of the 20th century & goes to the start of World War 2; as it tells the story of airplane designer Jiro & his fate to build an instrument of war in the Zero fighter.

It could be seen as nostalgia ladden & denying the atrocities of the past -as it has actually been accused of being- but more it should be seen as brilliant art unto itself.

The acme of animation as rendered by a man so meticulous that he does everything from the script to the storyboards to sitting with individual scene animators in order to explain to him his vision of the film.

When all is said & done & Miyazaki Hayao has passed from this Mortal Coil, that is what we shall be left with.

His incredible eye for detail & exceptional style of storytelling that shall continue to beguile & inspire countless animators, writers, directors & audiences.

Not only to work better at the own art but to work better at being better people.

His is the heart that lingers & the compassion to give his al for his audience, even if it is tinted by his own passions & experiences. Yet it is a passion that is infectious & it shall go throughout the ages as a glorious legacy of compassion, spiritual, modernity & wonder that none in our current age will ever be able to match.