Twitter Plot Summary: In a world beset by pestilence a young prince runs away and meets up with a wizard who is investigating the troubles.
Director: Goro Miyazaki
Key Cast: Timothy Dalton, Willem Defoe, Matt Levin, Cheech Marin, Mariska Hargitay,
Five Point Summary:
1. Timothy Dalton on the English voice cast = five bonus points.
2. Horsetown. I don’t see many horses.
3. That boy’s got evil in him…
4. Arren feels all down in the dumps, but it’s all up to him to save the day. Someone should sing Hakuna Matata at him.
5. It’s all gone a bit He-Man. HE HAS THE POWER!
Opening with a ship at sea in tumultuous weather, the crew are disturbed by a brace of dragons fighting above them. Dragons aren’t supposed to be visible in the human world, hence why this is a somewhat odd situation. Meanwhile young Prince Arren runs away (after bumping off his father, the Ki), and meets wizard Sparrowhawk. Turns out that Sparrowhawk is investigating thr blight that is afflicting the land, which leads them inevitably to Cob, another wizard/mage who wants to live forever and clearly has never seen The Highlander.
Regrettably I’ve not read Ursula Le Guin’s source novels, so I can only base my opinion on how the film works. It takes elements of the first four Earthsea novels and the title from a short story collection. Got all that? Right. I get the impression that the fantasy elements were toned down to bring the story more in line with Studio Ghibli’s previous output, but having no knowledge of the books I suppose I’ll have to do some research into that… not right now though, let’s just look at the film.
Villain Cob is like an image of what androgynous David Bowie might look like nowadays had he maintained his Ziggy Stardust persona into the present day like some ageing Kiss tribute artist. I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be a man or a woman; in the English dub it appears to be a “he”, voiced with venomous intent by Willem Dafoe. As heroic wizard Sparrowhawk Timothy Dalton is his usual excellent, entertaining self, getting to play the Obi-Wan role to Arren’s Luke Skywalker.
It’s another “world and nature imbalance” story, buy this time transposed to Le Guin’s fantasy realm. That’s a Ghibli stable alongside the standard “boy meets girl” plot, I’m not sure I can list any Ghibli films where that isn’t the case. Thankfully it’s never something that’s forced down your throat, and there’s an added theme of being afraid of life, welcoming death because unlike most animals we’re self aware and we know that eventually we will feel death’s icy embrace, and so on. This is the film at its most preachy, but this only lasts for a couple of minutes tops, so it’s not something you should be universally worried about. What’s more concerning is its lapse into mental Akira territory towards the end. It doesn’t go as mad as having a boy turn into a giant ball of flesh, but it’s sufficiently out there, for a few minutes, to perhaps cause you to raise an eyebrow.
The animation is typically excellent, although Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro is on directorial duties this time round. Whilst the animation style is usual Ghibli, it lacks some of the charm and pizazz of Miyazaki Senior’s efforts. I’m sure with time Goro will become a competent anime director, but for now at least he needs to work on balancing the pathos and emotional storytelling for which his father is best known. Only then will he have managed to step out of his father’s shoes by, ironically, stepping into them. Not an instant classic like most of Studio Ghibli’s other releases then, but it’s a compelling effort all the same.
Favourite scene: It’s very early on, but the opening scene with the dragon battle. It implies there’s a big fantasy epic on the way, but it ends up being a standard Ghibli story. Not actually a bad thing, but could have easily gone super epic.
Quote: “Opening the door is forbidden! Have you finally gone mad?!”
Sparrowhawk reacts badly to Cob leaving the door open and allowing pennies worth of heating to escape out into the cold winter’s night.
Silly Moment: Any scene with Cheech Marin.