Up until I was eight, my dad traveled frequently for work, often for weeks at a time. Once, after a long trip to Japan, he returned with a couple of animated movies on VHS: My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Even though I couldn’t understand the dialogue, I watched them repeatedly and reveled in the worlds created by Hayao Miyazaki.
I shared them with my friends and even rewound the cassettes to catch the trailer featuring a dreamy floating castle (I now know this trailer was for Laputa). The characters and art have stuck with me ever since. After three cross-country moves, I can still look to Kiki for support in being a young woman of color figuring out how to make it on her own.
In a conversation with an acquaintance about The Wind Rises, I told her I was already inclined to love it (and I did) because I was already a big fan of Porco Rosso. Miyazaki is a man in love with airplanes and through both movies he imparts that love to his viewers. Both films are reminders that the real magic (and really all Miyazaki movies do this) is not in the world but in your choices and in your will.
In 2008, a character with a two-syllable name captivated a then 4 year-old NOC-in-training as she watched a movie about a fish-girl, magic, friendship, and bringing balance to the world. Many would guess that I’m describing The Little Mermaid, or even the early stages of Avatar or The Legend of Korra. All are fair assessments, but in this case we are referring to the eighth film from the amazing Studio Ghibli: Ponyo.
Now, I have written before about my introduction to anime while growing up in Peru, but it is my brother Diego that is the expert in our family. I remember him saying that I had to watch Princess Mononoke and Spirited Way, but I never got around it. And it wasn’t until one day he came to our house determined to introduce me and his niece to the world of Miyazaki.
Among all the amazing animated movies Studio Ghibli has produced, Totoro continues to be my personal favorite for a few reasons. Aside from the mastery in design, animation, and story telling led by Miyazaki-sensei, My Neighbor Totoro brings me back to my own childhood every time I watch it.
Walking into Satsuki and Mei’s house felt like walking into a dream in real life. Due to countless Totoro screenings, the house seemed extremely familiar, as if I’ve been there before. Walking through it brought back favorite moments and chattering between the characters. Opening up their cabinets and unfolding their clothes felt slightly intrusive, but incredibly surreal. I was more than convinced that people lived there.
Every person has that storybook or movie (or cartoon) that they would watch over and over again until it would be worn out. For me, that’s 1968’s Horusu, Prince of the Sun a.k.a. Taiyō no Ōji: Horusu no Daibōken1. What’s this have to do with Miyazaki, you ask? While Horusu was Isao Takahata’s feature debut, Miyazaki was the key animator, storyboarder, and scene designer.
Out of all of the Hayao Miyazaki films I have known and loved, only one has remained my favorite over the years: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.Nausicaä is famous for a number of reasons, not least of which is for being the film that more or less is the reason Studio Ghibli got off the ground, as its success led to the formation of the studio. It is also the first feature-length film that Miyazaki based on an original property, following his entry into the Lupin III series, The Castle of Cagliostro. In Nausicaä, several motifs and themes that would dominate Miyazaki’s work would be established: flying, an inclination toward pacifism and eco-consciousness, a strong female protagonist (and antagonist in the case of this film). All of these things would be featured repeatedly in Miyazaki’s films, but Nausicaä featured them first.
But the most curious thing about Nausicaä is how it has existed in the US. There have been three distinctly different portrayals of the property, each with their own quirks and interests, that have been given to American audiences, and it’s worth examining what each of them represent.
Around 1987 or ’88, I was in junior high and in a funny stasis where my nerd creativity was beginning to grow out of my bookishness (I routinely wrote awful Dungeons and Dragons-type short stories) but before I collided head first into confronting issues like race, violence, and poverty that was all around my world and in my school (I had no idea that my misplacements in advanced math and ESL had to do with my race). Add this to adolescent hormones and — well, to keep it short, it was rough on many different levels.
For whatever reason, one of our shop class teachers wheeled a TV and VCR into class one day and decided to show us a movie called Warriors of the Wind. Some of my friends were absolutely crazy about it. I thought it was cool, but honestly, I didn’t get it.
[Ed. Note: Two Februarys ago, the artist Martin Hsu made a pilgrimage to the famed Ghibli museum outside Tokyo. Since it’s Miyazaki Week, I asked Martin if we could republish the recap of his visit here. So enjoy! —KC]
As a self- proclaimed Studio Ghibli nut, the Ghibli Museumin Mitaka, Tokyo has got to be one of my favorite places in the world. It’s a magical and heartfelt place anyone can enjoy even if you don’t believe in Totoro.
Unlike the usual commercialized theme parks which are built upon revenue, the Ghibli Museum clearly stays true to the visions of Miyazaki-sensei with the sole purpose to inspire, educate, and entertain. The scale of the museum would not be considered large according to traditional standards, but every panel of the wooden floor, every curve of the craftsman metal, and every piece of the stained glass windows is made and placed with precision, intention, and lots of love. It’s very much a reflection of Studio Ghibli films.
Look, like any good nerd, I normally prefer watching a foreign movie as it was originally intended. When Disney scours Hollywood for top-level talent to overdub their vast catalog of Studio Ghibli titles, I’m not their target audience. And unlike most Americans, I actually don’t mind reading my movies if subtitles are required.
But let me get back to my original point. Of all the Miyazaki movies that have been dubbed in English, I believe Howl’s Moving Castle is the only one that works. Before I get into that, though, I want to talk about what’s wrong with dubbing foreign movies in the first place.
Hayao Miyazaki’s most recent film The Wind Rises was finally released in the U.S. over the weekend. Earning an estimated $306,000 from 21 theaters, Miyazaki’s final Oscar-nominated film has prompted the Nerds to reminisce about some of their favorite Studio Ghibli movies.
So all week, we’ll be hearing from many of the Nerds as they share memories about the movies that affected them the most.
In the meantime, you can get started by checking out some of our past Miyazaki coverage from recent months.