Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Dream of Family

I make no secret of the fact that I'm pretty much a kid in a 22 year old's body, and since I can remember I've always had a love for anime. As a middle school student I would rush home in order to watch Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon (more of my sister's choice than mine), and Pokemon. I loved getting lost in the worlds these artists' envisioned, created, and the stories with which they told. They possessed the ability to be both childlike in amusement, while maintaining a maturity of subject matter seldom found among children stories. So as you may be able to imagine anime has had a huge part in shaping the way I view cinema. The things I look for, adore, and even the values I hold.

Some of my recent blogging buddies as of late have pointed out to me a lack of care for anime as a whole, something of which I find an all too constant occurrence. So instead of doing another review, filling the text here with bland critique on a film most of you have already probably seen, I'd like to tell a story. Last year, during my summer vacation, I opted to go on a journey through film. Much in the same way I had done for Kurosawa before, I told myself that I was going to see every Miyazaki feature length film ever made (Lupin 3 to Howl's Moving Castle). Years before I had seen Princess Mononoke, and I was simply blown away. To see all of Miyazaki's films became a must for me, not an option.

There was no particular order to my trek, it was entirely based on availability, but alas I can honestly say it was as memorable a cinematic journey as any I could have hoped for. For 3 months I went on a journey with Miyazaki through time, space, and worlds. Yet through it all one notion seemed constant in Miyazaki's films: Family. It doesn't have to be genetic, but rather a far more platonic family. One based on love of each other, regardless of the situation.

In Princess Mononoke we see a woman who lives with wolves, struggles to identify with humans, while a man seeks refuge in a iron town full of disjointed individuals. But alas together they find a semblance of family. In Nausicaa, the lonely female warrior finds family in all the members of her town she is forced to save as the woods around her burn. In Island in the Sky two lonely kids find love in each other, and family in the pirates that assist them as they go on their journey to find a mysterious floating island. The children of My Neighbor Totoro (pictured above) find peace in the lovely creature who takes care of its family, while they must take care of each other as they struggle to cope with their ailing mother.

In Kiki's Delivery Service we see the importance of platonic family as the young witch sets out on her journey of self independence. The kindness strangers show her, the young boy who seeks to court her, and the relationships she builds, creates a special sort of family seldom found. In Porco Rosso we see the need for others to care about through the eyes of a pilot who has been cursed with the look of a pig. We see his troubles, his self imposed isolation, and yet his desire to belong, and even the way in which the relationships he builds shapes families in those around him. The of course you have Spirited Away which shows the trouble family can sometimes cause, but reminds us of the importance of having them around. The need for a family regardless of the good and bad because they are always there for us when we really need them.

Then of course there is Howl's Moving Castle. I'm not sure if any of Miyazaki's films truly represent the notion of an adopted family quite as well as it is on display here. Sofi's mother figure wonderfully cares for Howl, while at the same time representing a sort of wife figure. In many respects she is his heart and soul when he needs one most, his true caretaker. Then of course there is our latest Miyazaki entry, Ponyo. Even here Miyazaki brings about the notion of family, the troubles and benefits, and how love is not bound by age but rather by the ultimate human condition: the desire to care. Ponyo and Sosuke's love is platonic and yet deeper than most others because they share a connection, they see each other as apart of themselves, and apart of their real family.

So if you're asking yourself why spend all this time. Why write so much about family, anime, and Miyazaki? Well it's simple, family is key. I often find people trying to compare Pixar and Studio Ghibli, weighing the plus and minuses of the releases of each, and trying to find some level of superiority. Claims that somehow they're very different. Look at Pixar films: Nemo, Ratatouille, Wall-E, Toy Story, Monsters Inc, A Bug's Life, Up, Incredibles, Cars... they're the same. Even go with your old school Disney films: Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Snow White. They have all these motives, these drastically different stories. And yet they all share one commonality: family.

Whether it's a family sought, lost, gained, or needed, animated films are heavily connected on that very notion. It's a simple notion, on paper at least. It's not even that complex. But it's a pure notion. A human notion. Perhaps if you look at close enough you'll begin to see they're not all that different at all. In each one they manage to find some semblance of family and happiness even through the roughest of life's patches. They find hope and mysticism in even the most mundane of life's problems. Now that's the power of a truly great animated film.

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