August 20, 2008
Miyazaki's European flying arc
As a general rule, Ghibli films that Hayao Miyazaki has written or directed are based on Japanese mythology and fairy tales (Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo on a Cliff), or belong to his "European flying arc." The latter take place in Europe (or reference the region), include exuberant flying sequences, and feature a spunky teenage girl as the heroine.
Excellent English dubs of these films have been produced and released by Disney, with impressive talent behind the microphone. For example, Michael Keaton, Brad Garrett, and Carey Elwes (sporting a Texan accent) face off in Porco Rosso, with Kimberly Williams as the spunky teenage girl and David Ogden Stiers (sporting an Italian accent) as her grandfather.
The following list classifies the films according to period and setting.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
Victorian steampunk with a Dickensian tone. A young girl literally falls out of the sky into Muska's arms, setting off an Indiana Jones-type adventure to discover the legendary "Castle in the Sky." In hot pursuit are sky pirates (a Miyazaki favorite) and sinister government forces (Mark Hamill voices the Darth Vader character).
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Late Edwardian. The movie begins with a Disneyesque depiction of the ideal, early 20th century European burg. But before long, Howl's playing of all sides against each other (as in Kurosawa's Yojimbo) has drawn Sophie and him inexorably into the latter stages of the Great Game and finally into the devastation of the Great War.
Porco Rosso (1992)
A classic "Lost Generation" piece set in the Northern Adriatic. The leads could have been played by Bogart and Bacall straight out of To Have and Have Not. The "Red Pig" is a cynical WWI ace living with the guilt of being the sole survivor of his squadron while battling a bunch of bumptious, bumbling sky pirates.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Miyazaki homages the Northern Mediterranean in this coming-of-age story based solidly in the 1950s. The setting is his most picturesque, sans the dark political overtones of Howl's Moving Castle and Porco Rosso. Kiki is an enterprising young witch who starts her own bicycle messenger service (well, by broom, of course).
Whisper of the Heart (1995)
The story takes place in present-day West Tokyo, but Nishi-san's Curiosity Shoppe comes straight out of the Hans Christian Andersen school of architecture. Nishi-san bought the Cat Baron in Germany before the war, which we see in a glowing flashback. Shizuku's boyfriend goes to Cremona, Italy, to study violin making.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Miyazaki's first Studio Ghibli production. Princess Nausicaa fights to save her village from being overrun by marauding environmental forces and warring armies. Though it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future, Nausicaa's village has a distinctive medieval European look, as does her arch-enemy Kushana's armor.