Friday, August 2, 2013

Studio Ghibli and Ursula Le Guin's "Earthsea"

 About two years ago I watched Studio Ghibli's movie "Tales from Earthsea" (『ゲド戦記』 lit. "Ged's War Chronicles"). I only just recently finished reading Ursula Le Guin's book "The Other Wind", which is the final book from the Earthsea series so I decided to finally write about the movie and the books. I will write mainly about my personal opinion and experience and I will try to give as less spoilers as possible.
So the movie came out in 2006 and was directed by Goro Miyazaki, who is the son of Hayao Miyazaki. Apparently, Hayao Miyazaki wanted to direct this movie himself, but was turned down several times by Ursula Le Guin, who had not watched Ghibli's movies at the time and associated them with Disney. But after seeing the award winning "Spirited Away" (『千と千尋の神隠し』)in 2003, Le Guin finally gave her permission to Miyazaki to make the movie. At the time Hayao was busy making "Howl's Moving Castle" (『ハウルの動く城』)and so his son, Goro, took on the job.
In my personal opinion "Tales from Earthsea" is a decent movie. When I watched it, I still hadn't read the books and I did not know what to expect. I remember thinking that the movie was fine story wise, but I did not know how wrong I was. I have to say that the animation is very nice, but you can clearly see the difference between Hayao and Goro. Hayao's movies have a certain gloss and the characters, the leaves, the grass absolutely everything moves so naturally and seams real, as Goro's movies just lack that kind of smooth motion. Yes,  "Tales from Earthsea" has the typical atmosphere of a Ghibli movie, but it lacks the magic of "Howl's Moving Castle" or "Princess Mononoke"(『もののけ姫』). "Tales from Earthsea" has the typical Studio Ghibli artwork style and animation, but I think that the gap between the two directors is just too big and you can clearly feel it. That's why this movie will never become a classic like "Howl's Moving Castle" or "Spirited Away".
After watching the movie I was pretty eager to read the books, because I knew that there will be a lot of differences and really love comparing animes, based on novels to the original stories. So a few months after I watched "Tales from Earthsea" I found the books "The Earthsea Quarted" and "Tales from Earthsea/The Other Wind" on a bazaar and they were like 75% off their original price so I a bought them without thinking twice and started reading the first book of the series the same night. 
The Earthsea series consists of six books - "A Wizard of Earthsea", "The Tombs of Atuan", "The Farthest Shore", "Tehanu", "Tales from Earthsea" and "The Other Wind" and two short stories - "The Word of Unbinding" and " The Rule of Names". "A Wizard of Earthsea", "The Tombs of Atuan", "The Farthest Shore" and "Tehanu" form the Earthsea Quartet, which is the main storyline. "Tales from Earthsea" consists of five short stories - "The Finder", "Darkrose and Diamond", "The Bones of the Earth", "On the High Marsh" and "Dragonfly"- and a description of the world of Earthsea. The novel "The Other Wind" closes the Earthsea cycle. 
"A Wizard form Earthsea" is one of my most favourite books and I recommend it to everyone, who is a fan of the fantasy genre and still hasn't read it. This book is a must! It's not very long, about 200 pages, I think, but it's very dynamic and interesting. And the main character, Ged, went to wizarding school before it was cool :P
As for the other three books from the Quartet, they were interesting, but nothing exceptional. "Tales from Earthsea", "The Word of Unbinding" and "The Rule of Names" tell you more about the world of Earthsea and its characteristics and really complete the whole experience of reading the series. These short stories make the world seem more lively and realistic and I really liked them. 
"The Other Wind" is my least favourite of the series and not because the story was dull or anything, but because it was written in a way that I did not like at all. In the whole book you could never see the characters actually doing anything. They were just talking and planning and talking and planning, and then talking about how they succeeded their plans. You could never actually see the characters in action. I have to say that I read this last book out of pure stubbornness. I just wanted to finish the series. 
So when I read the books I finally realized how different they are from the movie. It turns out that the movie is practically a mish-mash from all the books. It seems that Goro Miyazaki just took characters, details and story lines from all the six books (mainly from the Quartet) and tried to construct them so as to make one whole and complete movie. He really did make a complete movie, but it has almost nothing to do with the original storyline. You can think of it as a side story, that takes place in the same world as the Earthsea series or parallel universe or something like that.
Even Ursula K. Le Guin gave a mixed response to the film in her review on her website. Le Guin commended the visual animation in the film but stated that the plot departed so greatly from her story that she was "watching an entirely different story, confusingly enacted by people with the same names as in my story." She also praised certain depictions of nature in the film, but felt that the production values of the film were not as high as previous works directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and that the film's excitement was focused too much around scenes of violence. Her initial response to Goro Miyazaki was "It is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie". However, she stated that the comment disclosed on the movie's public blog did not portray her true feelings about the film's vast departure from original stories; "taking bits and pieces out of context, and replacing the story lines with an entirely different plot."
All in all, the movie is not bad, but it should be considered as a side story of Earthsea, or a whole different thing, as I said above. If you haven't read the books or watched the movie, I recommend that you read just "A Wizard of Earthsea", because it's worth it. If you plan on watching the movie and reading the books, watch the movie first and then read the books, or you will be really disappointed. If you have read the books and plan no watching the movie, don't do it. Just don't. Trust me. But if you are a Ghibli fan and you haven't watched "Tales of Earthsea" you might even like it. 


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