Math Recommends, Round Two: Six Ghibli Movies / Anti-industrialist hoedown

November 26, 2006 at 3:04 am (Anime)

I think I’ve now seen every Ghibli movie of significance except the latest one. Continuing on with the algorithmic recommendations I’m getting from AniDB I cheated a little this time. Since there were two Ghibli movies in the top ten, I just went ahead and grabbed all of them that were on the list. This includes: Laputa, Kiki, Porco, Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart, and The Cat Returns. I guess I’ll cover them in producion order.

There has been some ridiculous amount of writing done on Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, I think. I would say Miyazaki is the most recognizable name in anime. The Favorite Director poll on ANN a month or so ago certainly seems to back this up. Ghibli is also very odd compared to other anime studios in that they almost exclusively do movies rather than TV shows. More than anything else, I think that explains their relative popularity. Movies are higher budget and higher prestige than TV shows. Most anime comes on late at night, but families can take their kids to see Ghibli movies (is this a common thing to do in Japan? I don’t know). I’ll run through some common themes and aspects I see from Ghiblia and Miyazaki with each of these, I guess.

Laputa – Castle in the Sky Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

I don’t neeeed your blooood money!

If I recall correctly, Laputa is the first movie produced by Studio Ghibli (Nausicaa preceding it on Miyazaki’s list, but not coming out of Ghibli), and it’s probably some mark of Otaku shame or something that I hadn’t seen it before now. I did enjoy it, but after watching it it occurred to me that it is basically the same movie as Nausicaa, and I liked Nausicaa a lot more.

Many of Miyazaki’s films have an anti-industrialist tilt. Actually, one thing that amuses me is that almost every Ghibli film has a really obvious sort of “message” or “moral” to it. The anti-industrialism in Laputa is almost as straight-forward as it is in Nausicaa. I don’t really care, I’m just amused, because this seems so…I don’t know. Ridiculous? I’m used to movies trying to make very personal-level messages, if they have any message at all. But almost all the Ghibli films are obviously pointing a finger at something on a global or societal level. Maybe I’m just so cynical that I laugh when somebody tries to make a point. Or maybe these messages just lack resonance with me; I liked Fight Club, afterall. It doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of the films; though no doubt if I could nod and think “you’re goddam right that war-mongering governments are always trying to stick it to nature and it’s going to KILL US ALL” then I would think more highly of them.

Laputa is also a good example of one thing Ghibli does particularly well: stunning visuals. They have a severe talent for taking your breath away. I understand Miyzaki has historically taken a really micromanagey approach to the animation and art, so a lot of this may be his hand directly, making me wonder if he’d be a better Animation Director than Director, really. The castle itself is totally sweet. I would live there. I would also not mind having the killbots and the giant laser beam, but I’d take the castle either way.

Kiki’s Delivery Service Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

I’m sorry this screenshot is so shitty; I couldn’t get it to work right

Of all six of these, Kiki might have been the most like “normal” anime. There are even a lot of panchira (sort of), though I don’t think they’re really intended to be fan service, particularly since Kiki wears some fairly conservative undergarments. It was a bit smaller in scale, and didn’t have the nostalgia or as much of the fantasy aspect as some of the other movies, witch are none.

It still has the hilarious anti-industrialist subtext, what with the brand new technorogy: ZEPPELIN causing the major climactic conflict of the episode when the creators’ ignorance of nature (“Yeah, I guess they don’t know we get severe winds this time of year”) causes their scientific invention to fail. And the friendly old ladies who hate electricity.

I felt like the character development in Kiki was a little shallow in the lead-up. Like I was really surprised when Kiki lost her powers; it didn’t seem like the action up that point really warranted it. Unless the point was supposed to be that life sometimes randomly shits on you, which seems way too arbitrary for one of these movies. So now my shopping list includes: floating castle, talking cat.

Only Yesterday Directed by Isao Takahata

Where have all the flowers gone?

I watched this first of the six, because the description sounded really interseting, so when I didn’t like it I had to weight against it not meeting my expectations. There’s nothing really wrong with Only Yesterday; it just didn’t really do it. Maybe because Taeko inexplicably reminded me of my grandmother, which is just fucking weird. Definitely this movie was shooting to evoke a strong feeling of nostalgia. That’s another common thing that Ghibli movies seem to shoot for, when they’re not going high fantasy. However while sometimes I can enjoy nostalgia for unfamiliar settings, it wasn’t really happening here; I was just bored. Also, young Taeko was (I think intentionally) really annoying. I didn’t have any sympathy for her.

This one has the big pro-countryside anti-city anti-industrialist pro-nature thing. I mean, the dude is a fucking organic food farmer. I did like the countryside art. Again, Ghibli is good at art.

Shopping list: flying castle, talking cat, pineapple

Porco Rosso Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Best line in the movie

Oh man I really liked Porco. It was a little slow at times, but I think there is something innately entertaining in a movie about a hotshot pig aviator who fights against pre World War II Italian air pirates and a pretentious American who wants to steal his classy ladyfriend and/or spunky loli mechanic. This film is just a lot of fun. This was also a case where I was absolutely fine with nostalgia for a setting that is foreign to me. It kind of made me want to travel back in time to see if the Adriatic was actually that awesome in the 30s.

Despite the anti-industrialist subtext running through Ghibli films, Miyazaki has a total hard-on for airplanes (see also: Laputa, Kiki, Nausicaa, uhh were there flying things in Howl?). But I can get behind that. I mean flying machines are just freaking cool. The “message” in Porco is more anti-war anyway. Arrogant American aside, the real enemy in the show is the off-screen Italian Air Force who are after Porco, and whose employ caused much of the troubles in his life in the first place. I thought it was amusing that they never really explicitely mentioned *how* he became a pig.

Shopping list: flying castle, talking cat, pineapple, aviator goggles

Whisper of the Heart Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo

A sense a Red Violin AMV coming on…

I was also a pretty big fan of Whisper, but I mostly just want to see that I got really freaked out when I first cut it on. I thought somebody was playing some kind of elaborate joke on me. I thought maybe I had a joke video with the audio track secretly swapped. Because I reallllly don’t expect to turn on anime and hear John Denver. Particularly Country Roads, which is a song about nostalgia for an area with which I’m actually fairly familiar (Appalaicha). One of the common explanations for anime popularity in the U.S. is a certain factor of exoticness. And that definitely works on me to some extent. So it’s very weird for me to have something familiar tossed in with something I have classified as “exotic” in my head (I guess).

It’s a good movie though. It gave an excellent air of mystery running through the city. I dig anything like that with little hidden shops of wonders or urban secrets. I also dig elaborate clockwork devices. So I had fun here. I think Shizuku has, like, the least Japanese parents ever though. I thought Japanese parents went insane if their kids didn’t conform and go to school and shit.

Actually, upon reflection, I think the direction in Whisper calls for some praise. I actually think Kondo did an amazingly good job here. The framing, and scene set-ups, and scoring. All of the cinematogrphy aspects. They’re all extremely impressive, I think. While not really creative or inventive they keep the pace up, and keep you engaged with what’s going on in the scene. I’m not sure I have the vocabulary to properly express my sentiment here, but I would say this is the best direction of any Ghibli movie I’ve seen. Kondo’s death is all the more tragic for it; I really would have liked to see him do another film.

Shopping list: flying castle, talking cat, pineapple, aviator goggles, incredibly elaborate cuckoo clock

The Cat Returns Directed by Hiroyuki Morita

A cat is fine too

If I hadn’t already known and hadn’t seen Whisper of the Heart, I probably wouldn’t have pegged this as a Ghibli movie, because the art seemed really different from their norm.

Alright the Baron is pretty cool, and he wears my favorite hero outfit. This was a simple story, but it was fun. And I like cats. It was neat how this was a pseudo-sequel to Whisper of the Heart. I don’t know what to say about Neko no Ongaeshi really, except that it’s a solid fantasy adventure movie.

Shopping list: flying castle, talking cat, pineapple, aviator goggles, incredibly elaborate cuckoo clock, top hat, frock coat, and cane.

So here are some common things about Ghibli movies:
– They tend to have a message, often an anti-industrialist one
– When they make fantasies, they have a very good feeling for the fantastic and a solid sense of wonder. When they make nostalgia films, they have a very good feeling for setting and atmosphere. I think these are related.
– No matter what kind of film they’re making, the art tends to be large in scope, and visually impressive. Big landscape shots are frequent.
– They often contrast impressive natural phenomena with impressive man-made phenomena (Laputa is a good example).

Alright, well I’m out of thoughts on that…so what should I do next? Here is the top 15 of my current recommendations list from the hint algorithm:
1. Seikai no Senki II
2. Mirai Shounen Conan
3. Monster
4. Koukyoushi Hen: Eureka Seven
5. Kino no Tabi: the Beautiful World
6. Scrapped Princess
7. Kimagure Orange Road
8. Mugen no Ryvius
9. Seikai no Senki
10. Oruchuban Ebichu
11. Kimi ga Nozomu Eien
12. Wolf`s Rain
13. Slayers Next
14. Koi Kaze
15. Ike! Ina-chuu Takkyuubu

I think with Ping Pong Club, Ebichu, and some of those others I could set up some kind of All-Ecchi package that is a great follow up to this All-Miyazaki one. On the other hand if I prioritize Future Boy Conan, I might actually get some work done on my thesis, since it will probably take me forever to FIND a copy of it.



  1. Lenners said,

    I. love. Ghibli. Movies. Especially Nausicaa too~ Whisper of My Heart, I went and downloaded the country song, but it didn’t have the same effect as watching it… XD

  2. Lenners said,

    Wait a second… WHERE’S TOTORO!? :o Not even a single mention!

  3. sethjohnson said,

    While Totoro is my favorite Ghibli film, it didn’t really contribute much further to my discussion.

  4. Sonhex said,

    I highly recommend Future Boy Conan for your next anime. Conan is one the greatest animes of all time. If you liked Laputa, you’ll like it more because Conan and Lana are Pazu and Sheeta by any other name. Scrapped Princess and Eureka 7 are also excellent choices and you can’t go far wrong with Bones animes.

    Also if you haven’t seen Mononoke Hime, give it a shot. Spirited Away too. These are two unmissable Miyazaki movies. :)

  5. sethjohnson said,

    Like I said, I’ve now basically seen all the Ghibli and/or Miyazaki movies of any significance. The only major exception is Castle of Cagliostro, which I started but never got around to finishing. Oh, and Gado Senki or whatever it is; I’ll get to that eventually.

    I didn’t actually think Laputa was that great (not bad by any means), but I’m interested in Future Boy Conan as a comparative study, since Miyazaki is known mostly for doing movies.

  6. Daelite said,

    I just clicked over here from another blog and happened to read this entry and have an interesting tale about Country Road. I have a feeling it’s a popular song for Japanese to sing in english, though I have little evidence for that and don’t know how it could be researched….
    This summer while on an exchange with a Japanese high school we were told to visit clubs after school. When a few other foriegners and myself visited the Chorus Club they sang Country Road for us, surprisingly well. They even said things like West Virginia correctly and I was extremely impressed… and reminded of Whisper of the Heart. :)

  7. sethjohnson said,

    Thanks for the comment. That’s interesting. It might just be that singing requires being a bit more exact in pronounciation than speaking does.

  8. Lupus said,

    I think Miyazaki’s obsession is with flying, not airplanes. There is at least one flying scene in mmost of his movies (there are a few that I haven’t seen, like Whisper of the Heart, so I can’t say all).

    Also I’m not so sure about the anti-industrialist perspective. There’s nothing that’s overtly anti-technology or anti-industrialist that I can see in any of his movies; they feel more like messages of environmentalism to me. It’s more about the beauty of the natural environment and the necessity of its protection. I can see how that’s akin to anti-industrialism, though I don’t know if the two can’t be mutually exclusive.

    Personally I think the best part of Miyazaki films is watching the main character grow and mature – but I think I’ve rambled on enough in your comment box.

    BTW, I’ve stopped writing at Everything and Nothing. You can take that link off. I’d really appreciate if you would link instead, I occasionally write there now.

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