Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Miguel Gomez: Why I Love Miyazaki's Films

In celebration of our retrospective of Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki's films, showing on 35 mm as part of our Saturday Kids Matinees, Viva Video!’s Miguel Gomez explains why he thinks audiences of all ages should see Miyazaki’s animated gems.

Why I Love Miyazaki's Films
By Miguel Gomez, BMFI Patron and Viva Video! Owner

BMFI's Saturday Kids Matinees have been a bounty of wonderful so far this month, featuring the works of one of my favorite directors, Hayao Miyazaki. My son, wife, and I have been entranced by both My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service so far, and we can't wait for the remaining films in the series, Spirited Away (my personal fav) and Ponyo (a wonderful version of “The Little Mermaid" aimed at the younger set). The magic and beauty of Miyazaki's work has been clearly evidenced by the fact that, although the screenings have been filled with young 'uns, the audiences have remained quiet aside from appropriate laughter and even some clapping upon the films' completion!

Prior to Spirited Away, Miyazaki had been making films for years; Spirited Away is his eighth feature film. All of them are 100% worth your time, particularly Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke, which aren't part of BMFI’s Miyazaki Retrospective. I find Spirited Away of particular interest because of the way it straddles children's cinema and cinema for adults. The imagery in this film is of such incredible creativity that anyone watching it should be floored by what they see.

A scene from Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away
Heads up adults! Make sure you have your child's hand nearby for you to hold when you watch Spirited Away. The surreal nature of the film is downright freaky to those above the age of ten. Having rented the movie to families for years over at TLA Video, and now at my own shop in Ardmore, Viva Video!, I have never encountered a kid that was scared by the movie, but most adults that have watched it (and loved it) could definitely use their child's hand for comfort during some of the more surreal moments in the film.

Miyazaki's films are interesting for a few reasons. First, the pacing and narrative arcs are really different than what you may be accustomed to watching. Both My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service (screened earlier this month—I do hope you saw them, they are fantastic!) are just a bit off-kilter. Conflict plays out to a different rhythm, and the third acts are generally more low-key and subtle than we see in most films. Kiki's Delivery Service even includes a fair amount of story during and after the end credits! These films are lovely, and tend to seem like a window into these fantasy worlds, which feel much more real due to these structural shifts. It's hard not to imagine the stories continuing outside of the bounds of what you see in the theater.

Also of note is the feminist nature of Miyazaki’s films. It is rare to find a film—movies for adults included—that features strong, well-rounded female characters as agents of action. His characters don't depend on males to get them through troublesome scrapes and they aren't entirely pre-occupied with finding a boyfriend. Impressively, they aren't presented as one-dimensional tomboys either. In Kiki's Delivery Service, Kiki both saves the boy from certain death and wants to wear a pretty dress. In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (not shown at BMFI), the main character is a warrior princess of sorts who fights for her land and the environment. I feel embarrassed for the film industry as a whole when watching Miyazaki's children's films portray more three-dimensional female characters than most of Hollywood's output intended for adults. If you have a girl child, you owe it to her to show her these films and undo some Barbie-style harm. If you have a boy child, you owe it to our society to show these films to them to combat what preconceptions they may have gotten about female roles from pop culture!

BMFI’s five-film tribute to Hayao Miyazaki continues Saturday, March 23 with Spirited Away and concludes with Ponyo on Saturday, March 30. Screenings are at 11:00 am and are presented on 35 mm film, the way they were intended to be seen!

Miguel Gomez, in addition to being a Haverford College grad and an all-around good dude, worked at TLA Video in Bryn Mawr for thirteen years. After TLA closed last October he opened up his own video rental store in Ardmore, Viva Video! The Last Picture Store to continue to bring all manner of cinema from Alphaville to Zombie to the Main Line. Visit him at his store and get updates at www.viva-video.com or follow Viva Video on Facebook.

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