Studio Ghibli

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

Remember how, ages ago, I did that list of my favourite non-Disney animated movies? Yeah, that list is probably due an update. There are so many fantastic films that I’ve discovered or re-discovered since then: Coraline, Prince of Egypt and of course Princess Mononoke. Still the highest scoring animated movie I’ve ever reviewed on this blog (or tied for first place if you count Who Framed Roger Rabbit). So when I was asked to review From Up On Poppy Hill, another Studio Ghibli film by Miyazaki that I’d never even heard of I was pumped. 

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

Yes.

More

More.

Again.

Again.

Yes.

Yes.

More please.

More please.

So this is the 17th Studio Ghibli film, released in 2011 after Arrietty and before Miyazaki’s final film as director, The Wind Rises. Aaaand that’s about as much as I know about it. I’m going into this one completely cold.
I mean, c’mon. What else do I need to know? It’s a Studio Ghibli film directed by Miyazaki. The only question is; Great Movie or the Greatest Movie? Let’s take a look.

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Princess Mononoke (1997)

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Alright, let’s deal with the elephant in the room, shall we?
I watched the dubbed version.
マウスの死亡! (Death to Mouse!)

マウスの死亡!
(Death to Mouse!)

Yes. Yes. Yes. Illiterate. Ignoramus. Buffoon. Yada yada yada. Look, to a certain degree I sympathise. When it comes to live action movies, I cannot STAND dubbing. Der Untergang is one of my favourite films and if you ever suggested watching it in anything other than the original German, I’d accuse you of being the first person to ever talk about Der Untergang who was actually worse than the main character. But that’s for live action. Animation is slightly different. One of my big problems with dubbing over live action is that even when the characters are outside in a forest or whatever the voices coming out of their mouths always sound like they’re in a recording booth. Which of course, they are. Also, you just can’t make the lip movements synch up, it’s just not possible. With an animated film, however, everyone, original voice actors and unwashed gaijin alike are in a recording booth anyway so it doesn’t matter. It’s also easier to make the lip movements more closely approximate the new language in animation. So basically, when it comes to animé, subbed or dubbed, I’m easy. For Princess Mononoke I’m reviewing the dubbed version for the following reasons:
  • It is a phenomenal dub. Great cast, fantastic performances, wonderful adapted script by Neil Gaiman, just amazingly well done.
  • Miyazaki himself prefers his movies to be watched rather than read and supports his films being dubbed into foreign languages.
  • I don’t want subtitles clogging up my screencaps when I’m makin’ mah dick jokes.
  • It’s easier for me to come up with jokes for the American voice actors. “Perhaps I wasn’t clear, I’m Hisaya mother fucking Morishige” doesn’t quite have the same ring.
  • Watching the subbed version means I don’t get to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. I want to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice. Why don’t you want me to hear Gillian Anderson’s voice? Try and take it away from me and see what happens. Just. Try.
I’m not arguing for the superiority of the dubbed version over the original Japanese, or vice versa. What I’m saying is; it doesn’t matter. Watch either. Watch both. This movie is so damn good it will not make a lick of difference.
Monoke-Hime “The Spirit Princess” was released in Japan in 1997 and almost immediately became the most successful Japanese film of all time against a budget of 2 billion yen (aka around $20 million dollars or a third of what it cost to make Foodfight!). Following that, Miramax, a tentacle of the vast Disney octopus, purchased the rights for distribution in the West. Now, it’s a tired old truism that the big difference between animation in Japan and in the West is that here, animation is seen as being “just for kids” and I really hope we can put that one to rest finally. No, animation in the West is no longer seen as being children’s entertainment. The most successful television show in American history is The Simpsons. The airwaves are full of animated series specifically marketed towards adults. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncutwas one of the biggest grossing movie musicals of all time. It’s done. Grown ups watch cartoons now. War is over.  If you want it. Having said that, it’s certainly true that animé can be…well, pretty shocking to Western audiences used to animation being almost totally comedic. Animé is into some messed up shit quite frankly, and I’m not even talking about their lax stance on schoolgirl/tentacle relationships. There is an intensity to the violence and body horror in animé that’s like nothing you’d see in Western entertainment. Which, of course, is why it’s so popular here. Even Miyazaki, who is about as far as you can get from Fist of the Northstar, can serve you up some pretty disturbing imagery and Mononoke is probably the darkest movie in his filmography (I’ve heard Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is even darker but I haven’t seen it yet). We got decapitations, monstrous transformations, severed limbs, giant bleeding boars turning into worm monsters of pure hatred and all kinds of dark horror that Disney just doesn’t do.
Ahem. Anymore.
HELLO!

HELLO!

So legendary Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein wanted to make heavy cuts to the movie to have it more in keeping with American expectations for a full length animated film. Studio Ghibli’s response was simple and eloquent, sending Weinstein a katana sword with a note saying “NO CUTS!”. It’s my blog, so I will add to the story that it was delivered to Weinstein’s room in the dead of night by a ninja weeping a single tear as he crouched silhouetted in a window while behind him, cherry blossoms fell in the moonlight. But of course, the sword was probably just delivered by some FedEx guy (ah, the days before 9/11). Weinsten got the message and the film was released without cuts, thereby ensuring that Studio Ghibli did not have to take things to the next stage.
Horsehead
Miyazaki may well be the greatest animation director who has ever lived. Princess Mononoke is widely considered his greatest work. Just how good is that? And can I actually make any jokes about a movie this excellent? And will you actually laugh at them?
"Why start now?"

“Why start now?”

Let’s take a look.

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