Miyazaki DVDs; Howl’s Moving Castle; Joe Hisaishi

Two more of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies were released to DVD in February with new English-language voice tracks — Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Porco Rosso (1992). Of course we got them shortly thereafter, though it’s taken me a while to tell you about them. The executive summary is that they are both good and you should buy them both, but I thought I should say a bit more. As usual, I’ll say everything except what the movies are about; you can find that out through the links.

Nausicaä is widely regarded as Miyazaki’s masterpiece, though I believe he himself is less happy with it. I can’t imagine the impact it made in 1984; I’ve seen so much of his later work that it’s difficult to evaluate. Princess Mononoke (Amazon) covers many of the same themes, and is in many ways a more mature and successful work. Nausicaä, though, was Miyazaki’s “first” film — the first he wrote and directed, if I’m not mistaken; he’d directed and worked on other animé before. It has all the topoï that keep recurring in his later works: young protagonists, strong women, flight, reconciling humanity and nature; no unamibiguously good or evil characters.

Porco Rosso, on the other hand, may well be Miyazaki’s least Miyazaki-like, simply because the characters are mostly adult. The conflicts are personal rather than epic, which would place Porco alongside Kiki’s Delivery Service (Amazon) and Spirited Away (Amazon), were it not for the clear children’s focus of the latter two movies. In its focus on flight, it’s quintessentially Miyazaki, though airplanes are quite mundane in comparison. Except for the fact that the protagonist has the face of a pig — pigs show up a lot in Miyazaki’s more recent films, don’t they? — it has few fantasy elements.

One thing I found maddening was how elliptical these two films — especially Porco — could be. Too many plot points — key plot points — were left dangling in Porco: the FAQ clears up some of them, but the film by itself leaves you guessing. A little ambiguity is by no means a bad thing — but in the right places, please. (A similar bit about Nausicaä’s clothing changing colour was insufficiently clear.)

In other Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli related news: the English-language dub of Howl’s Moving Castle will be released in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco on June 10, with a wider U.S. (and hopefully Canadian?) release on June 17. Mark your calendars and check your theatres.

Finally, Joe Hisaishi is responsible for most of the music on Miyazaki’s films, and let me tell you, he’s responsible for some of the most insidious cinematic earworms I have yet encountered. What’s frustrating about that is that the soundtracks are hard to find. You can usually find “image albums” — music based on the storyboards — as imports on Amazon, but they’re something on the order of $35. So far I’ve only been able to find soundtracks for the two most recent U.S. releases on Amazon; certainly they’re not on iTunes.