Yes, it’s true.
I’ve finally watched an anime title I not only tolerated, but actively liked enough to watch a second time.
On the advice of several friends and acquaintances, Steph and I added two classic anime films to our Netflix queue a while back. They’re by Hayao Miyazaki, who is considered one of the masters, and our friends who know us (and the details of our aversion to anime) assured us the films did not have most of the elements that we find distasteful.
The first one we got was Spirited Away. Now, I’ve never liked Japanese mythology, and the story was chock full of it (a little girl and her parents get pulled into a spirit world; her parents get turned into pigs, and she ends up having to work at a bath house for spirits in the hopes of trying to free them) — so it will be no great surprise to anyone when I tell you that my reaction was pretty much, “What the hell?” I sat through the weirdness thinking that so many people had recommended it, there had to be some sort of payoff at the end. Nope. Not for me, anyway. Apparently this movie is the highest-grossing movie in Japan, which just goes to show I do not understand the Japanese culture at all.
The next one we got was Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is the story of a 13-year old witch who is spending a year living on her own as part of her apprenticeship. This one was somewhat better — it didn’t send me running for the hills — as the strong voice talents of Kirsten Dunst as Kiki and Phil Hartman as her cat Jiji provided enough of a draw for me to get into the story. Once I was in, I enjoyed it.
Both of these two movies contained trailers for the third movie, Castle in the Sky. We got it almost a month ago and finally found time earlier this week to screen it; with the kids in school, we’ve had to restrict movie watching on school nights and we had decided we definitely didn’t want to let them watch it with us (like we made the mistake of doing with Spirited Away).
Wow. What an awesome movie. There’s a reason this one is considered one of Miyazaki’s best. Lots of pulp and steampunk elements (awesome big airships! robots!) combine with a very touching story about Pazu, the young and determined boy who champions Sheeta, a girl who floated down out of the sky one night into his life. Sheeta inherited a magical crystal and is being chased both by a notorious group of sky pirates as well as the army, headed by the sinister Muska. The key to Pazu and Sheeta’s quest is the legenedary floating castle of Laputa, ancient home of a powerful, technologically advanced people. It’s got action, humor, more than a hint of demure romance, but most importantly it makes you care about the characters and the world they are unwittingly struggling to save. Again, there are some big voice talents — Anna Paquin as Sheeta, James Van Der Beek as Pazu, Cloris Leachman as the unflappable pirate Captain “Mom” Dola, Mandy Patinkin as the pirate Louis, and Mark Hamil as the creepy yet seductive Muska. Mark Hamil’s performance in particular deserves a shout-out — watching it the second time tonight with the kids, I listened for the verbal cues that I missed the first time to tell me Muska was Mark Hamil and came away empty-handed; had I not seen the behind-the-scenes, I’d not have known. He does a fantastic job.
Needless to say, the kids loved the movie, as do Stephanie and I. On the Amazon wishlist it goes, and if you’re looking for a good family friendly tale, give it a thought.