Stay tuned for more.... Tales of Interest!
Fri, 22 February 2008
by: Australian Ninja
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Tales from Earthsea is another fine anime feature film from Studio Ghibli. Past films such as Grave of the Fireflies and Only Yesterday were directed by Isao Takahata and films such as Spirited Away and Nausicaa were directed by Hayao Miyazaki. However this film was directed by Miyazaki's son Goro Miyazaki (formerly the curator of the Studio Ghibli museum).
Where previous Ghibli films were compelling journeys of excitement and discovery, comparable to works of (childrens) great literary fiction, Tales from Earthsea is merely entertaining. Moving at a leisurely pace, it proves overall not to be as immersing as other features, which is understandable and still impressive considering it was the work of a first time director.
Borrowing a little synopsis action from the back cover:
|Who's a cheeky monkey then? |
In search of the cause of an enroaching catastrophe, the Archmage Sparrowhawk meets Arren, exiled Prince of Enland, in flight from a nameless Shadow. Coming to Hort town, a city known for its dangerous streets, they cross paths with Therru, an orphan girl. When Sparrowhawk learns that his rival, the wizard Cob, will attempt to open the door between the realms of the living and the dead, a struggle to avert the disaster begins.
The quality of the animation in Tales from Earthsea is rich, with characters full of life and extravagantly detailed backgrounds; a Ghibli trademark. The particular art style used, especially in character design is reminiscent of earlier Studio Ghibli works and pre-Ghibli animation such as Hols: The Norse Prince. The voice cast in both English and Japanese prove to be excellent choices, delivering the dialogue with heartfelt expression that lends emotional depth to the characters borrowed from Ursula K. Le Guin's epic fantasy novel series "Tales from Earthsea".
From Timothy Dalton's earthy baritone fatherly voicing of Sparrowhawk, Cheech Marin's work as a cheekily annoying henchman named Hare to Willem DeFoe's subtly eerie, discomforting voice as the evil wizard Cob, the voice talent bring the characters to life in a way that too few animated features bother with. In fact, many modern animated feature films slap together a cast based of whoever is most popular at the time, regardless of whether the have any actual acting ability or not.
Not so with Ghibli films, the voice talent is painstakingly chosen, and you are unlikely to hear a popular celebrity thrown in just for brand name recognisition. I'm digressing here, but I think Mike Judge (creator of Beavis and Butt-Head & King of the Hill) put it best when he said you should not remember a character in an animated film purely because of their celebrity voice. The character should stand on its own. Of course at the end of the day, people are going to remember Mel Blanc as Bugs Bunny and Tom Hanks as Woody, but the point is that the character comes first, and in Studio Ghibli films you can be damn sure the character comes first, and any voice has to suit that role - thankfully you won't find any old idiot shoe-horned into the role for their celebrity fame, rather than their voice-acting ability.
|Studio Ghibli might as well trademark the words 'breathtakingly beautiful' for use in describing their films |
Getting back to the film, the musical score and overall aesthetics further serve to bring the fantasy setting to life in a seriously dramatic fashion. The execution of the story and its pacing however is what lets down an overall excellent production. Make no mistake; Tales from Earthsea is still a cut-above most Japanese or Western animated features, regardless of who made them. Studio Ghibli usually does not fall into the 'one-dimensional' character trap, but it did come close with this film. Although what we may interpret as slow pacing, may be a deliberate directorial decision, or even a cultural difference, as Ghibli films are primarily made with a Japanese audience in mind.
As Goro Miyazaki's first directorial effort, Tales from Earthsea is a strong start and a very impressive debut film. I for one eagerly look forward to Goro Miyazaki directing another anime. But the question remains, is this film as good as other Ghibli productions? On a technical level yes but in execution, no. But judged by its own merits, Tales from Earthsea is a high-quality anime that is enjoyable to watch -and like other Ghibli films - is even more enjoyable upon repeat viewing.
The extra features in this two disk set include a twenty-minute+ talk with the Japanese voice cast and the director (with English subtitles). It offers some insights into the creative process, some occasional glimpses at concept art, and perhaps most intriguingly a little footage of a cast member exploring the Studio Ghibli museum, all in the NTV Earthsea Special and Behind the Microphone featurette . The packaging of the DVD comes in a delightful wrap around cover with a spectacular slipcase showcasing gorgeous artwork from the film. The designer's at Madman have really outdone themselves with this cover, it's easily as beautiful as the Howl's Moving Castle slipcover. For those inclined, I'd recommend watching the film in both English and Japanese to gain further insight into the characters, and be sure to listen to the song on the hill sung by Aoi Teshima as Therru.
|Let's hug it out bitch. (That was so wrong, but I blame Entourage) |
I know this is an odd way to finish this review, but the people who do the subtitles for these films are talented bastards, and I salute you all (if you've ever watched Kung-fu film subtitles that are poorly translated and inappropriately placed om screen, you'll appreciate the high-quality of the subtitles on the Madman brand DVDs.
by: Australian Ninja
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An enjoyable film, high-quality production values, but the story is not quite up to the standard of previous films from this studio