Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away
For Part 4 we return to Hayao Miyazaki for writing and direction while Joe Hisaishi provides the music once again with long time Producer Toshio Suzuki also involved. As we do so, we enter a new era for Mr Miyazaki, the digital era, the era of computer graphics. Princess Mononoke is the first Hayao Miyazaki film to feature digital graphics and colouring while Spirited Away is the first of his films to be an entirely digital production. Released on either side of the Millenium, it’s difficult to underestimate how critical this transition must have been. Many creators have fallen foul of the traps that new technologies can lay in their paths – just ask George Lucas.
New technology can be dazzling, impressive, open up entirely new avenues to explore; but it can also be intimidating, difficult and ruinous to exploit. It’s so important not to lose sight of what makes their creations so captivating. To change how you reach that exquisite end result without getting lost in a myriad of dead ends. Fortunately, this hasn’t been an issue here. Aside from one panning landscape shot that was a bit juddery to my eye and a slightly odd perspective frame, both in Princess Mononoke, I’d say the transition went off without a hitch. A seriously impressive feat, as I’ve made clear above.
Importantly, for me though, is that we again see the return of the fantastical elements in these two films. Where the very ordinary human world crashes, sometimes violently, into a much wider world. World’s packed with spirits, demons and magic. The tension between humanity and nature in Princess Mononoke is presented very well. Another evergreen and entirely prescient theme. I really enjoy the character designs, they remain quite rounded with fabulous details and bucket loads of personality contained within them.
A criticism I have is that so many of these films have featured a romantic element that often just doesn’t quite work for me. From the extremely one way, bordering on harassment, dynamic in Kiki’s Delivery Service to Ashitaka falling in love with San (Princess Mononoke) seemingly in their first encounter where she essentially tells him to “F’ off”. Not to mention the rather needless role that “love” plays in Spirited Away where “true love” is mentioned as being the only thing that breaks a spell. A rather unnecessary addition when the character’s compassion could easily have been enough. Of all the elements in these films this is often the weakest link for me. It’s often a “romance” of convenience that doesn’t have enough substance to it to feel real for me. However, none of them really break my immersion so they still work even if only superficially. I was completely enraptured by both films from beginning to end, so they are doing a lot more right than wrong.
A surprising stand-out moment for me came in Spirited Away. Near the end of the film there’s a scene on a train. It lasts about 2 minutes, there’s no dialogue, just the music and the view. Once the characters sit down we see them travel, stop at a station so other passengers can get off, we see some landscapes that they travel through and that is it. It’s so simple. So beautiful. I found myself in those moments getting a bit emotional. I had a chance to reflect on the enormity of that situation. How difficult it must be for each character in that scene. With that beautiful animation and mesmerising accompanying music drifting through the air as it goes on.
That scene was perfect; it was worth watching the whole film just for that 2 minute sequence.
Many of Studio Ghibli’s films are currently available on Netflix (UK). Do watch them while you can, if you haven’t already.