Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Waiting For Ponyo

Miyazaki's new one, Ponyo On A Cliff, is currently in production, and there are weekly updates on Japanese radio. GhibliWorld is keeping tabs on it.

The pictures look deliciously like My Neighbour Totoro, and it's understandable why I'm excited about it because Totoro was the first Miyazaki film I ever saw and remains my most favourite for how it looks upon childhood and all its trials and tribulations from such an endearing and beautiful perspective.

Those of us who grew up in the 80s would surely have been either addicted to, or at least paid much attention, to the various anime series on TV at the time. Macross and Mospeada captured my imagination as a teenager, but by then my anime senses, and my friends', had already been sharpened to a degree by early anime such as Broker Corp Machine Blasters (very few people ever mention this series). Even earlier on before the robots came along, we grew up on Sinbad and Marco, which had really great stories that kept us glued to the TV every weekend. They took us to various exotic places, meeting all kinds of characters, and in Marco's case, tugged at our very hearts on his quest to look for his mother.

Then came Totoro, and I was completely bowled over by it. There was something completely different about it. It was emotional but not in the Disney Bambi-Dumbo manipulative kind of way. It just is. As simple as that. It told its story, showed us what needed to be shown, but what a movie it is. And the biggest magic is how Miyazaki is able to evoke the exact time of day - whether it's morning, afternoon or evening - with just 2D cell animation.

I saw the much touted Ratatouille recently, having been won over by the trailer that had swells of Gershwin's An American In Paris. The critics loved it, the Pixar fans rejoiced, but I remember sitting in the cinema and wondering "Why don't these annoying characters just shut up for even one second?"

The endless banter by both humans and rats left my ears ringing, and not in a good way. There was recently a wonderful article online about how American animated features have characters that just can't stop talking. Unfortunately I can't find that article to link, but I must agree with that opinion. And in Ratatouille, it reached unbearable proportions. Not only do the characters yak non-stop, there's even a voice-over!

There's not much appreciation of the beauty of silence. If you give the Region 1 DVD of Totoro a spin, you'll see that during the parts where the characters don't speak, the American dubbing has added laughter or other sounds or even words that are not in the Japanese version. It's as if silence is a terrible evil!

One of my favourite moments in a Miyazaki film is the train ride in Spirited Away. It's a quiet, contemplative moment, where no words are exchanged and the sequence, exquisitely rendered, is punctuated only by Hisaishi Joe's emotive score. It's one of the loveliest moments in cinema. It's simple, solid proof that you don't need fancy motion and banter a la the kitchen chaos in Ratatouille, to make an effective and memorable scene.

Give me a Miyazaki film any day. There are enough talking-animal animated films and overrated ones like Ratatouille.

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