A film review by Cliff Homewood.
Miyazaki. No, not a bike. For the uninitiated, Hiyao Miyazaki’s a Japanese filmmaker, spoken about in revered tones. His work being high art and we should grovel profusely for each masterpiece. Called the Japanese Disney, though his success rate is not as good as Walt’s. Co-founder of Studio Ghibli that’s made highly charming films such as Kiki’s Delivery Service and The Cat Returns. Miyazaki peaked in 2003 with Spirited Away, which won the Oscar for best animated feature that year and a serious contender for best animated feature of all time. He followed this up with the great Howl’s Moving Castle which felt like a sequel. His films haven’t quite been to the same standard since. Ponyo was passable. Arrietty is delightful, but familiarity with the source material, The Borrowers, gave me a sense of déjà vu. From Up on Poppy Hill can stay up there. His last film, The Wind Rises, was a dull biography, so was glad to see he has come out of retirement (Hiyao was 83 on the 5th January) to make another fantasy, more his style. He’s already working on his next film.
The Japanese title for this film translates as How Do You Live, which is also the title of a 1937 novel, which the hero’s mother gives him at the beginning of this film. Perhaps it explains what the hell is going on. This is Japan’s most expensive film according to its Producer and it opened at number 1 in Japan. The heron in Japanese myth symbolises transition and for decades we never saw a Studio Ghibli film as Hiyao Miyazaki felt translations were butchering originals, only when Disney got involved with top class talent were they released in the West. For this film they wanted a subconscious link with Howl’s Moving Castle so the same voice actor was used for Shoichi as played Howl, Takuya Kimura, Christian Bale in the dub. Both versions have been released to the cinema.
As usual the film looks beautiful, but like My Neighbour Totoro I found it a slog to get through the first half. It was slower than Roger Lloyd Pack’s funeral.* It picks up in the second half when we enter the world of fantasy. A little ‘i’ makes all the difference, changing it to The Boy and the Heroin and it’s like a drug dream. The film does not sufficiently explain what’s happening. I felt this dream logic missed the clarity of a story throughline like Spirited Away has. From amusing old washer women-type characters to warawara floating around like a cross between soot sprites and Doctor Who’s Adipose, characters reminded me of Spirited Away. There is, as usual with Miyazaki, great imagination on display but the film is confused instead of enlightened. When it ended I wasn’t quite sure of what had happened and why.
It feels like a near miss instead of a hit**, especially with its laborious first half.
*Roger Lloyd Pack played Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. You shouldn’t get the mental acuity of the character mixed with that of the actor. This has been your Trigger warning. [Groan, Ed]
**Some people are going to say a near miss is a hit. My mum says I’m worth my weight in gold, but the Bank of England doesn’t agree, what are you going to do?