Monday, February 23, 2009

Princess Mononoke

Eboshi and her ishibiya troops are responsible for the cursed iron bullet in Nago which eventually affects Ashitaka. She shoots the Shishigami's head off, causing it to turn into a God of death and sending forth a dark liquid that kills anything it touches. The liquid falls on Moro's body, separating her head from the body. After Eboshi throws the Shishigami's head to Jigo, Moro's head resurrects long enough to bite off Eboshi's right arm. This event redeems her and she decides to rebuild Irontown not as an industrial center, but as a modest settlement.

That remarkable passage is taken from Wikipedia’s page about the Japanese animated film Princess Mononoke, which Mrs Brit and I watched last night. As a synopsis, it is a fair reflection of the bemusing logic of Japanese animated films in general. In Japanese animated films, having one's arm bitten off by the disembodied head of a wolf-goddess is exactly the sort of thing that prompts a chap to rebuild an Industrial Centre as a Modest Settlement.

We have built up a good collection of Studio Ghibli films. Spirited Away is still the best, but they are all satisfyingly beautiful and strange.

The key thing about them is that they are not bound by any of the traditional Western storytelling conventions. Plots meander and splinter all over the place, being more one-damn-thing-after-another than a coherent arc.

And this lack of a defined plot arc liberates the characters. Their actions are driven by whim and circumstance, rather than by the fact that they are goodies or baddies within the story. Motivations and loyalties are fluid and malleable; they do good things and bad things. Villainy and heroism are contingent, as in real life. Great big ferocious demons turn out to be sympathetic and sad. The main characters are curiously Christlike – rather than slaying monsters, they tend to favour psychoanalysing and then forgiving them.

You can watch the DVDs with English actors doing the voices, but we always prefer to watch in Japanese with English subtitles since this preserves the required level of disorienting weirdness. At one point in Princess Mononoke the two protagonists in a swordfight yell the following at each other:

“Why can’t Irontown and the forest gods live together in harmony?”
“We always want to control everything between heaven and hell, it is the human condition!”

They do cartoons differently in Japan.


malty said...

That rigging's in poor nick, Brit time to move the blog down onto the poop deck. Let me see if I have this in hand, these three spotted Jap Dalmations led by a younger version of Yoko Ono and crafted by an Maya operator have yourself and Mrs Brit in thrall of an evening, well, the law of unintended quincequonces comes into play here.
Picture if you will, all over the joint, the automotive industry is throwing bodies over the wall at an increasing rate. Among them will be, from the styling and engineering studios, many Autodesk Maya operators, salary negotiable, the same system that gives you your Dalmations. Because of the increased volume of sales in the Bristol area of the above DVDs many of these lost souls will find gainfull employment.
You are a wealth creator, congratulations.
More later upon our return from the west.

Brit said...

You out-do even yourself, Malty. It hadn't occurred to me that I was saving Japanese nerds (Japanerds?) from despair and the dole queue with my eccentric viewing habits but of course I was forgetting my globalisation.

Ian Woolcott said...

Miyazaki is great. 'Spirited Away' is my favorite, too ('My Neighbor Totoro' probably comes in second), but I wonder if that isn't because it tells its story in what I might consider (with my western eyes) a more coherent fashion.

Brit said...

Yes Ian, but even Spirited Away is pretty nuts compared to a western story arc. The big difference is the fluidity of the characters and the lack of clear cut goodies and baddies.

I also particularly like Howl's Moving Castle (astounding) Nausicaa (confusing), The Cat Returns (utterly crazy). Some are a bit duller - there's one called Whisper of the Heart which is just a nice teen story, no idea why they thought animation was the appropriate medium.

Ian Woolcott said...

'Howl's' is wonderful.

Have you seen the most recent one? I haven't.

Ian Woolcott said...

Oops. Here's that link.

David said...

I can't necessarily defend this, but I really like Kiki's Delivery Service.

Brit said...

Not seen that yet, Ian, but its time will come. Usually I buy Ghibli DVD for Mrs Brit as a birthday/Xmas present.... those cunning gifts that are also for yourself, you know the routine. We're planning to expose the forthcoming sprog to these movies early, to ensure it grows up suitably eccentric.

Kiki's was a sweet one, David, but not enough swampy demons for my tastes.