GEEK VS. GEEK: MIYAZAKI – WHENCE ALL THE LOVE?
It always comes as a surprise to me when I actively detest something beloved of my friends. Hell, it comes as a surprise to me when I actively detest something beloved of the random guy next to me. I think I tend to be pretty easy-going, able to find at least some measure of entertainment in even the most ludicrous of fictional endeavors – and sometimes to find even a good deal of entertainment there, depending on just how ludicrous we’re talking. Oh, I’ve hated stuff. Violently, vehemently hated stuff, and have then sprayed forth my vitriol on the subject for all to see. (Probably the most disdainful I have ever been of anything was here, and no, even to this day I do not regret a word of this diatribe, notwithstanding the tender age of the author I so ruthlessly attacked.) But even when trapped in the accursed depths of saccharine angel-filled YA nonsense I can usually find shades of meaning, a clever one-liner or at the very least a well-placed apostrophe on which to hang some semblance of enjoyment, and to engender in myself the merest whit of tolerance for whatever torture is then unfolding before my reluctant eyes. I mean, even when savagely critiquing Thor, as is often still my wont – that is a pain that lingers – I am prepared to concede that Chris Hemsworth possesses a mighty impressive set of arms.
Which is why I find it very surprising indeed that I must tell you, vehemently and violently and having thought about it a very great deal, that I just do not like a single thing about a single one of those pesky Hayao Miyazaki films everyone has long been raving about – like, at all – and I have no idea whatsoever why they are all so popular and acclaimed. None.
Now, look, in most everything in life, I am happy to stand as an individual, that guy in the crowd in Life of Brian objecting “I’m not”. There are many examples I could cite here which would handily illustrate my contrariness to the dictates of what is considered capital-G Good in our genre (Love: Howard the Duck; Hate: 2001; Love: Roswell; Hate: Game of Thrones; Love: Gen13; Hate: Watchmen), and about none of these am I ashamed. My tastes are vast and eclectic, and hey, I do read, and watch, and listen to, quality, high-brow-approved fare from time to time. It’s not all spaceships and vampires, you know. (Occasionally, there’s also magic.) But in no particular do I feel so at odds with the geektelligentsia as I do regarding my perplexity at the general and abiding respect and love widely held for the output of Studio Ghibli, and of Hayao Miyazaki in particular.
Lord knows, I have tried. I have – unlike my opponent in this debate – watched every one of the things, determined each time that this time, finally, I will relate to the characters or grasp the subtext or find glory in the choppy, haphazard animation and be able to, at last, declare myself a convert. It’s like how I’ve spent years sporadically trying to train myself to like coffee, a thoroughly disgusting beverage that I feel certain is just a massive practical joke being played on me by the population at large. “Oh, sure, we love coffee,” most everyone in the world pretends, while in reality they’re all sipping on Chai Latte and laughing behind their hands when I am served battery acid, each ensuing grimace only contributing to their amusement. Similarly, I am almost convinced that everyone who claims to be so enchanted with the works of Miyazaki – the disturbing Ponyo, the nauseating Nausicaä, the god-awful Princess Mononoke – are secretly running some kind of Truman Show-esque scam, where I am being observed for my reaction to peer pressure, and the day I am unable to take the constant assault on my nerves and finally break down, saying: “Wow, now I get it, that fighter pilot guy being a pig is brilliant!”, the man behind the curtain will shut the experiment down and it will be revealed that these so-called works of genius were actually intended as the worst animated movies ever, like in The Producers with that musical about Hitler.
(I promise, I am not nearly as paranoid as the above makes me sound.)
But I quite honestly just don’t get it. At first, when I watched Spirited Away and thought: “wait, this crap won an Oscar?!”, I figured I was perhaps just suffering from a distaste for badly-dubbed foreign film and so watched it again in its original Japanese, with subtitles. It didn’t help. Also, damn it, I cut my eye teeth on badly-dubbed foreign film, most especially a whole bunch of “you killed my father!”-style kung-fu (plus, hey, Monkey Magic!), and the disconnect between the characters’ mouths and their words never bothered me overmuch there. So, no, that wasn’t it. I mean, the voice of James Van Der Beek starred in a recent English dub of Castle in the Sky, and I love The Beek, yet even that wasn’t enough to make me not regret the two hours I spent slogging through it, every minute longing for the end to come.
Nor was it any problem I had, or have, with anime. I have long loved Sailor Moon and Astro Boy and Neon Genesis Evangelion and a plethora of others; add into the mix more recent outings like the late Satoshi Kon’s 2006 masterwork Paprika, which I utterly adore, and I hope it becomes clear that this isn’t some kind of bias of mine at work. It’s not the medium, it is the message: I. Just. Do. Not. Like. These. Movies.
Not a one of them. From Mononoke (boring) to My Neighbor Totoro (creepy) to Howl’s Moving Castle (stultifying) to Porco Rosso (annoying) to Ponyo (creepy again), their long expanses of silence peppered by nonsensical dialogue, their constant discordant notes struck by everyone yelling at everyone else for no apparent reason, their frankly eye-searing color palate (or washed out, eye-watering color palate: cf. Ponyo), and their parade of outrageous caricatures masquerading as characters all combine to make each Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film with which I subject myself an utter displeasure from beginning to (merciful) end. The only Ghibli offering I haven’t quite minded was the latest one, The Secret World of Arrietty, which I didn’t actually abhor. But it’s based on the children’s novel The Borrowers, and really, I’d rather just read The Borrowers, or even watch the not entirely successful 1997 John Goodman attempt at a live-action adaptation. And Arrietty wasn’t directed by Miyazaki, anyway.
Does this place me in a very profound minority? Probably. Will I continue to try and change my own mind, to at last see what everyone else (allegedly) sees? Sure. But for now, and in every way, I am most strenuously anti-Miyazaki – well, his works, anyway; I’m sure he’s a very nice man – and I am tired of apologizing for it.
Now, where’s my copy of Howard the Duck?
READ THE OPPOSING ARGUMENT
MIYAZAKI IS AWESOME!
by K. Burtt