The Miyazaki Animation Legacy
Father and son releases this week in the fantasy worlds of "Nausicaa" and "Earthsea"
"Tales From Earthsea" DVD (Disney)
"Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind" Blu-ray+DVD Combo (Disney)
Hayao Miyazaki is a household name in Japan, thanks to such films as "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away" and "Ponyo." Stateside, however, he’s too often been described as Japan’s Walt Disney, a comparison that captures the director's dedication to animated films of wonder and imagination (which extends to all the films from his Studio Ghibli), but misses his distinctive sensibility. Miyazaki is an original with an epic vision, an animist mythology, an environmentally-conscious subtext and a dedication to the art of hand-drawn animation that he maintains even in the face of the digital revolution. Disney, fittingly enough, releases two features from his Studio Ghibli this week.
"Tales From Earthsea," based on the "Earthsea" novels by Ursula Le Guin and a concept developed by Hayao Miyazaki, marks the directorial debut of his son, Goro Miyazaki. Miyazaki Pere's influence is very apparent in the themes of nature in balance and the greed of mankind tipping the scales, and the character designs and types are also familiar, with dragons out of Asian culture dropped into a medieval European world of castles and towers. Yet he lacks his father's storytelling richness and narrative sweep, and for all the gorgeous detail of the animation he fails to create much tension or energy. Fans of Ursula Le Guin will have their own problems with the way the film boils down her mythology to a generic fantasy odyssey tale. But there is a visual grace unique to the Studio Ghibli brand, and the dark powers manifest themselves in a weirdness that bends the natural world in unnatural ways.
Released in Japan in 2006, it took four years to finally get a stateside theatrical release (something to do with the rights to Le Guin's novels), with an American voice cast that includes Timothy Dalton, Cheech Marin, Mariska Hargitay and Willem Dafoe. Disney releases the film on DVD (no Blu-ray edition) with both the original Japanese and English dub soundtracks and "The World of Ghibli," which includes a featurette and interactive supplements.
From 1984, "Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind" (Disney) isHayao Miyazaki’s second feature and the feature debut of Studio Ghibli. Set on a faraway world of medieval castles and massive airships and splintered kingdoms, the story from Miyazaki follows an adventurous young princess who discovers the secret of the toxic jungle that spews poisonous pollen and breeds giant angry insects and the cure for her world, still recovering from a global war 1,000 years ago that almost destroyed the planet. Miyazaki’s fabulous images are full of a sense of wonder and his animation style is glorious and graceful. It’s a simple tale with a plucky heroine that became a hallmark of Miyazaki's later films, and the themes (and even some of the story elements) would be revisited with greater complexity and resonance in his masterpiece "Princess Mononoke." The English language version features the voice talents of Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurma, and Edward James Olmos.
Previously available on DVD, it makes its high-definition debut on a Blu-ray+DVD Combo with a new 12-minute "Behind the Studio: Creating Nausicaa" featurette plus the extras from the earlier DVD set: the complete storyboards in a lovely, real time presentation set to the movie soundtrack (it becomes something like a video storybook as well as an illustration of the pre-production animation process), the featurette "Behind the Microphone" with the English language voice cast and footage from the dubbing sessions, and the half-hour documentary "The Birth of Studio Ghibli," originally made for Japanese TV in 1999, about the origins of the studio and the production of their features from "Nausicaa" to "Princess Mononoke." It’s in Japanese with simultaneous English audio translation.