First animated feature from the son of Hayao Miyazaki

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First animated feature from the son of Hayao Miyazaki

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Hayao Miyazaki is known worldwide for his fantastical, imaginative animated films, such as “Princess Mononoke” and the Academy Award-winning “Spirited Away.” Miyazaki’s films are heartfelt and fiercely original, building entirely new worlds out of a mixture of Western and Eastern mythological influences. So when Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli acquired the rights to produce a film based on Ursula K. LeGuin’s beloved Earthsea fantasy book series, it seemed like a match made in heaven. But then the studio announced that Miyazaki would not be directing it, or at least not Hayao Miyazaki. Instead, the director’s chair went to Miyazaki’s son Goro, an outdoor landscaper with no prior animation experience ― and not everyone was happy about that, including Goro’s father.
In fact, it was widely known that Hayao Miyazaki was at first “fiercely against the idea” of Goro directing, an extension of a lifelong feud between father and son and, one of the older director’s friends suggested, between Hayao Miyazaki and the animation industry’s younger generation. Eight months and 110 minutes of film later, the finished product is “Gedo Senki,” the Japanese name for the Earthsea series. It comes to Korean theaters Thursday.
Goro Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki, the producer, were in Seoul at a press screening last week to promote the film.
“This film only started playing in Japan last Saturday, so the Japanese results aren’t yet officially known, but we’re releasing it in Korea anyway. I’m a bit nervous and anxious about that,” said Mr. Miyazaki. He needn’t have worried: Although the reviews have been less than stellar, the film took in about 1 billion yen ($8.7 million) on opening weekend, beating “Pirates of the Carribbean 2” for the top spot.
Mr. Suzuki hopes that success will repeat itself here. “‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ [Hayao Miyazaki’s last film] had ticket sales of 3 million [in Korea], the most energetic response in any foreign country,” he said. “Now, with your help, I would like ‘Gedo Senki’ to do even better.”
The film is mostly based on the third novel in the series, “The Farthest Shore,” in which Ged the Archmage defeats a wizard who has opened a portal to the land of the dead. Ghibli’s adaptation focuses the spotlight on Ged’s companion Arren, a young prince who has killed his father and fled his homeland. In the original book, Arren gains the right of kingship over Earthsea by passing through the land of the dead unharmed, but the new film has a more traditional, Arthurian climax.
“The reason we chose the third book to adapt was, first, that the world in which the third book was set was easy to understand from a modern perspective. Second, the third book is where the balance of the world has started to break down,” said Mr. Miyazaki. “Humans begin to forget the really important things one by one, and they no longer know the true purpose of life. We felt those circumstances had much in common with what’s happening now.”
“The thing I was most careful of in making ‘Gedo Senki’ was to not ‘do fantasy,’ even though this was fantasy,” he said. “I wanted to make it a world where humans really lived and played.” Indeed, for a sword and sorcery epic, much of the film is surprisingly domestic, with Ged and Arren helping their female companions Tenar and Therru in the fields.
These warm family scenes seem to belie the frigid relationship between Goro Miyazaki and his father. According to Mr. Suzuki, during the early stages of the production Hayao was enraged, saying his son couldn’t draw and had no place directing. For his part, Goro Miyazaki posted reminiscences on the “Gedo Senki” production blog about his father’s absence from his childhood. One is titled, “Zero Marks as a Father, Full Marks as a Director.”
But in fact the elder Miyazaki was not entirely uninvolved in “Gedo Senki.” Goro said his father drew an early conceptual drawing of the city in the film that became a foundation for the design of the film’s world.
“Hayao Miyazaki gave me another big hint in creating ‘Gedo Senki’,” said Goro. “That was a picture story he drew 20 years ago, ‘Shuna no Tabi’ (‘The Journey of Shuna’). He mentioned to me that I might take it as a reference.” This story is a series of full page color illustrations Hayao Miyazaki drew for Animage, a Japanese animation magazine, in 1983.
“And when I started thinking about the story for this film, ‘The Journey of Shuna’ became the framework. So I think that, although Earthsea was the original work, you could also indirectly call ‘The Journey of Shuna’ a second original work,” Goro said.
Making his debut in animation as a feature director against the fury of the world’s most famous animator ― and his father ― wasn’t as harrowing as one might expect, Goro said. “Since I was a boy, Hayao Miyazaki has been making animation, and he’s been a formidable presence. From back then, I’ve always been referred to as Hayao Miyazaki’s son, so after all this time I don’t worry about it anymore. On the contrary, it’s become a natural thing.”
Despite the father-son conflict, Hayao Miyazaki was reportedly stunned at his son’s artwork, especially the poster accompanying this article.
“During production he was very hard on me and often tried to discourage me,” Goro said. “But ultimately, when we were just talking between the two of us, he finally consented to me directing the film.”
“Gedo Senki” will play here in Japanese with Korean subtitles. There are no plans yet for an English-language release, though Buena Vista has released most of Ghibli’s previous films in the United States.


by Ben Applegate
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