Friday, September 21, 2007

ゲド戦記/ Tales from Earthsea

(movie reviews)

As a result of living in Japan, and the delayed release dates over here, I'm usually a bit behind the tide in my movie reviews.

The exception is anime and Godzilla movies, in which I actually get to be a little ahead of you in the states. This film is not a new film in Japan (in my video store, it's already been moved off of the new release rack) but according to wikipedia because of copyright issues it won't be released in the USA until 2009.

This is the latest film from Ghibli Studios, the equivalent of the Walt Disney company of Japan, who are responsible for just about all of the anime movies that have made it big in the US. ("Spirited Away", "Howl's Moving Castle", "Princess Monoke", "Laputa: Castle in the Sky", et cetera).

Unfortunately this film is a disappointment.

Before I start into it a couple disclaimers:
1). I never read any of the Earthsea books on which this is based, or any other Ursula Le Guin books. When I was at Calvin I read on the internet that "The Dispossesed" was an anarchist response to Dostoevsky's "The Possessed", so I checked it out of Calvin's library, but didn't really take to it and soon gave up. I've always meant to go back and give Ursula Le Guin another try but never got around to it.

2). I'm not a huge anime fan. Sure I've watched a lot of it over the past few years, but mostly that's because it's sort of required viewing for people living in Japan. I don't hate it, but I'm not a huge fan.

Despite all that, I still had high hopes for this movie going in. An epic fantasy story from Ghibli studios and the Miyazaki team. How could you go wrong?

The big problem with this movie is its pacing. For a very long time nothing really happens. According to wikipedia Ursula Le Guin criticized this movie because the film was too focused on the violent scenes, but I felt just the opposite. This film could have used a lot more action in the second act to keep the audience from falling asleep.

This problem is further aggravated by the fact that the voice actors (in both the original Japanese and the English dub) sound like they're falling asleep. Apparently someone was going for a sedate feel for the voices, but it is a bit too lulling for me.

At first I was wondering if it was just me, but then I talked to some Japanese friends and they also agreed that this film moves at a snail's pace.

There are some interesting themes in this movie about death and coming to terms with your own mortality, but in my book a film only gets so many points for attempting a theme. For full points they also have to successfully pull it off. And this film doesn't. The talky parts about life and death don't always gel with the action, and sometimes feel a bit tacked on.

Plus this film bit off more than it can chew. We all know we are going to die, and it is something we push to the back of our heads and try not to think about as much as possible, but beyond that I've never seen a fictional story deal with the concept of mortality in a meaningful way. Even philosophy and religion have failed to fully reconcile us to our own mortality after thousands of years, so what hope does a 2 hour movie have? In the end it reverts to cliches about the life cycle, and it sounds like I'm watching "The Lion King" and the circle of life again.

Link of the Day
We Are the Troops! Bring Us Home!

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