Checking in

Highlights from the posts I don’t have time to write:

Taishou Yakyuu Musume is the first new show this year to sustain my interest beyond the second episode. In the first eight episodes of the story, the writers have kept the focus primarily on high school girls learning to play baseball in 1925 Japan, and they have not let the themes of feminism and westernization versus traditionalism overburden the story. There’s also been very little teen angst. ((Some of the girls waste time being moody and depressed in early episodes; part of the story is how they find the mental toughness to keep playing despite errors and losses. However, there hasn’t been any romangst — yet. (In the eighth episode, it turns out that one of the girls has an unlikely crush on the central character. If this gets played up in the remaining episodes, it will be seriously annoying.) )) If the last four episodes are on the same level as the first six (the seventh and eight episodes are essentially filler), the series might be worth recommending.

Taking the maxim that “the pitcher and catcher should be as close as husband and wife” too literally.

Ponyo is in its fifth week in Wichita, the longest any Miyazaki film has ever played here, and it’s at a theatre within reasonable bicycle distance. I watched it last weekend. The dub is tolerable, though “bug off” is not an adequate substitute for “baka.” It made a little more sense than the fansub I watched last year — I suspect that there was some discreet re-writing in the dub script — but the logic of the story still is, um, hard to follow. I’d rank Ponyo as second-tier Miyazaki, not a classic like Spirited Away or Totoro, but far better than Howl’s Moving Castle (skip the movie and read the book instead). It is well worth seeing on a large screen if you have the opportunity, particularly if you have kids.

• For the convenience of any balletomanes visiting here, this is the only section of choreographic interest in Hakucho no Mizumi, the 1981 animated version of Swan Lake.

[flv width=”480″ height=”382″][/flv]

Sorry — if you want 32 fouettés, you’re out of luck. Swan Lake does have one of the better stories in ballet, but this adaptation trivializes it. Skip it, and find a video of a good dance production instead. Or, better yet, attend a live performance when you have the opportunity.

Quote of the week

I had to drive over 20 miles to reach a theater that was showing Ponyo. Meanwhile, every single theater in the area is showing another Disney movie about violent, flatulent guinea pigs. Now of course, Disney knows a lot about marketing animated films, and I’m sure that they will say that most Americans want to see the guinea pigs and don’t want to see a classic film by the greatest living master of animation. But this is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Most Americans don’t know that Ponyo is available and couldn’t find a theater showing it even if they wanted to see it.

Bonus quote:

“Who needs experience? I have theory!”

John C Wright, Titans of Chaos

Fish story

Someone smuggled a video camera into a showing of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, and thus I was able to take a look at it last night. It’s not first-rate Miyazaki, but it is much better than Howl’s Moving Castle. ((The book, Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, is excellent. Give copies to all the youngsters on your Christmas present list, and grab one for yourself. But don’t waste your time on the movie, Miyazaki’s worst.)) It will be worth seeing on the big screen when it’s released in the USA.

The good news: the core story, about the fish who wants to be a human, is something Miyazaki is good at. Ponyo, the magic goldfish, Sosuke, the boy who finds her, and Lisa (or Risa), Sosuke’s mother, are believeable, sympathetic characters. Some of the scenes reminded me of Totoro ((There is a significant parallel to Totoro in that Sosuke’s other parent is absent and, in the latter half of the movie, at risk.)) and Kiki. Ponyo’s first evening as a human in Sosuke’s home is as charming a sequence as Miyazaki’s ever done.

The bad new: the outer story is a mess. It’s a mixture of fairy tale, science fiction, paleontology, celestial mechanics, fantasy and deep ecology that doesn’t immediately add up to anything coherent. (I suppose I should be grateful that there isn’t a war going on.) Perhaps the symbolism will click after several more viewings and all will be clear and logical, but I doubt it.

Ponyo is not prime Miyazaki, but half of it is very good, and all of it is pleasing to the eyes, if not to the mind.

Incidentally, I was surprised by the quality of the video, both image and sound. There were very few clues that this was a surreptitious recording.

Screen captures below the fold.

Continue reading “Fish story”