A bit more about Gedo Senki: Story and critics…
For Goro Miyazaki, the summer ended on a bittersweet note. This 39-year-old filmmaker had the pleasure of seeing his first movie, the animated feature “Gedo Senki,” or “Tales From Earthsea,” blossom into the biggest hit of the summer in Japan, as it rose to the top spot and took in more than 7.3 billion yen, about $61.4 million, by the end of September.
But even his success brought inevitable reminders that he is, after all, the other Miyazaki. His Oscar-winning father, Hayao, regarded by many critics as the greatest director working in animation today, has earned much more with his own hits. Ursula K. Le Guin, author of the popular “Earthsea” novels, on which the new film was based, went out of her way to make the distinction on her Web site, calling the father “a genius of the same caliber as Kurosawa or Fellini.” She went on to complain about the liberties Goro and his new film took with her work.
“Of course a movie shouldn’t try to follow a novel exactly — they’re different arts, very different forms of narrative,” she wrote. “There may have to be massive changes. But it is reasonable to expect some fidelity to the characters and general story in a film named for and said to be based on books that have been in print for 40 years.”
So the younger Miyazaki can be forgiven a bit of weariness. “Sometimes I wish hadn’t entered the same profession as my father,” he said, speaking through an interpreter during an interview at Studio Ghibli, headquarters of the Hayao Miyazaki and the director Isao Takahata, in this suburb of Tokyo. “I realized for the first time how difficult it is to be the son of Hayao Miyazaki. If I weren’t involved in animated filmmaking, I would just have a simple, quiet, normal life.”
When U.S. audiences will have the chance to judge Goro Miyazaki’s work for themselves is an open question. There is currently no plan to distribute “Gedo Senki” to theaters in the United States; the rights are tied up with a 2004 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries.
The film received an enthusiastic response at the Venice Film Festival this summer and is set for an eagerly anticipated European release in 2007.
Miyazaki based “Gedo Senki” primarily on “The Farthest Shore,” the third book in Le Guin’s series, in which Ged, the Archmage, and Arren, Prince of Enlad, must defeat an evil sorcerer whose efforts to cheat death are destroying the balance that governs the realm of Earthsea. But Miyazaki added elements from the other novels and changed some aspects of the story. In the film’s opening, the darkness falling over the world causes Arren to stab his father; his quest for an escape from his crime leads him to Ged and the eventual confrontation with the sorcerer.
As a teenager Miyazaki read the “Earthsea” books, and he originally planned to make a faithful interpretation. “But as I continued on the project, I realized that adapting the story exactly was not really what I should do,” he said. “In order for me to speak to younger audiences, some changes had to be made because of the gap between when the book was written and when I made the film. I feel that metropolitan culture is becoming a dead end and there’s nowhere to go. I can’t just shout, ‘Return to nature,’ but we need to rethink how we can live in cities yet remain close to nature.”
Le Guin offered a balanced response, saying: “I thought the moral lectures in the film were spoken eloquently. In fact they were often quoted pretty directly from the books. But I didn’t see how the action of the film justified them. They felt pasted on to me. I did not understand why Arren stabs his father, nor how and why he earned redemption.” She added: “I very much liked the scenes of plowing, drawing water, stabling the animals and so on, which give the film an earthy and practical calmness, a wise change of pace from constant conflict and action. In them, at least, I recognized my Earthsea.” And Le Guin said, “I get roundly scolded on my Web site by younger Japanese people for not understanding the movie. These people don’t know the books, so they’re not confused, as I was.”
Toshio Suzuki, Studio Ghibli’s president, acknowledged that the film had drawn some unfavorable responses. “The reactions from some animation fans have been very negative,” he said. “They compare Goro’s work and his father’s, just as fans of the novels complain that the film is different from the books. I discovered that many fans of Hayao Miyazaki cannot accept anything else.”
The younger Miyazaki said it was Suzuki who initially persuaded him to take the considerable risk of following in his father’s footsteps, after having worked as a landscape planner and serving as managing director of the Ghibli Museum, the wildly popular shrine to the work of the senior Miyazaki and Takahata.
“I had never thought about becoming an animation director,” he said. “I was deceived by Suzuki, who was very clever about making me feel I could do it.”
A slim, soft-spoken man, the younger Miyazaki has not yet said whether he will direct another animated feature, though his father and Takahata, the principal directors at Studio Ghibli, have been looking for younger directors for years, saying the organization needs new blood.
“I have advised him to do so, and Hayao Miyazaki supports his son’s continued filmmaking,” Suzuki said. “Until 100 years ago in Japan, a farmer’s son became a farmer and a craftsman’s son became a craftsman: the job was passed on to your child. In my opinion, to have the same occupation as your father is good.”