From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

An Anime Gem

I imagine that most people have heard of Hayao Miyazaki by now, if not by name than by familiarity with his work. This brilliant director and animator has brought us some of the finest animated films ever made, such as Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle, which have both seen widespread theatrical release in the United States along with the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away.

While Studio Ghibli may not have the popularity and recognition of Disney or Pixar, the US is lucky enough to finally have most of its catalog available on DVD, with a few minor exceptions–most notably Isao Takahata’s quiet Only Yesterday. Astonishingly, many American kids now wish that Totoro was their neighbor, people’s hearts break every time they see Grave of the Fireflies, and we can even watch films about raccoon-like creatures with magical testicles. The Museum of Modern Art and the New York International Children’s Film Festival have prominently featured Ghibli’s work in the past, elevating their profile in the public.

And yet, there are some rare gems that may never make it to our Western shores, without the aid of bootleg DVDs and, of course, online video. One of these is a music video titled On Your Mark, scripted and animated by Miyazaki and set to music by Japanese pop stars Chage & Aska. It’s both touching and confusing, following two men (modeled after the singers) who try to rescue a winged girl from the military in a dystopian future. The narrative is non-linear and branching, open to some interpretation. And while the lyrics are as nonsensical as most Japanese songs, the melody and animation are beautiful. I can never watch this thing enough, and now I hope you can enjoy it too.

Miyazaki has also made some comments on the meaning and interpretation of the images in the film here.

So what’s your favorite Ghibli animation? I love most of them, but my favorites are Mononoke and Castle in the Sky. I also highly recommend Whisper of the Heart, which is perhaps lesser known than some of their films. It was written by Miyazaki but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo.

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