The River

Thursday, January 12, 2006

VCR alert

I know you folks don’t need recommendations for more screen time, but if you feel the need to indulge at the end of the day, TCM is a decent destination tonight.

The cable channel is running a Hayao Miyazaki film fest every Thursday night this month. Miyazaki is the Japanese animated film director, writer and artist referenced in my slam of “Revenge of the Sith.” For scifi fantasy, you can hardly do better than Miyazaki’s “Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind.” It’s on tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern, letterboxed and without commercial interruption.

Japanese poster for "Nausicca"

It’s followed by “Castle in the Sky”, which I haven’t seen and can’t vouch for. I haven’t seen “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Porco Rosso” either, but they will air next Thursday, and I’ve heard they are excellent.

It’s Japanese animation, so you have to get past the freakishly large eyes (you get used to them). But from the visual artistry, to the characters, themes and storylines, Miyazaki’s films are intelligent and sophisticated, designed for to achieve popular appeal by elevating the audience rather than pandering and manipulating.

A.O. Scott did a nice article on the animator in the New York Times a while back, and it’s online here

An excerpt:

In an interview last week, on the morning before his latest movie, "Howl's Moving Castle," had its New York premiere, he spoke about the new technology with a mixture of resignation and resistance. "I've told the people on my CGI staff" - at Studio Ghibli, the company he founded with Isao Takahata and Toshio Suzuki in 1985 - "not to be accurate, not to be true. We're making a mystery here, so make it mysterious."

That conscious sense of mystery is the core of Mr. Miyazaki's art. Spend enough time in his world - something you can do at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, which is presenting a sumptuous retrospective of his and Mr. Takahata's work - and you may find your perception of your own world refreshed, as it might be by a similarly intensive immersion in the oeuvre of Ansel Adams, J. M. W. Turner or Monet. After a while, certain vistas - a rolling meadow dappled with flowers and shadowed by high cumulus clouds, a range of rocky foothills rising toward snow-capped peaks, the fading light at the edge of a forest - deserve to be called Miyazakian.

So do certain stories, especially those involving a resourceful, serious girl contending with the machinations of wise old women and the sufferings of enigmatic young men. And so do certain themes: the catastrophic irrationality of war and other violence; the folly of disrespecting nature; the moral complications that arise from ordinary acts of selfishness, vanity and even kindness. As a visual artist, Mr. Miyazaki is both an extravagant fantasist and an exacting naturalist; as a storyteller, he is an inventor of fables that seem at once utterly new and almost unspeakably ancient. Their strangeness comes equally from the freshness and novelty he brings to the crowded marketplace of juvenile fantasy and from an unnerving, uncanny sense of familiarity, as if he were resurrecting legends buried deep in the collective unconscious.

So hey, here’s an opportunity to fish a few gems out of the murky stream served up by your cable/dish service. Popcorn optional but recommended.

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