Scene 22 – Song of the Sea

*Cue smoke machine….spot light centre stage*  “Hi Guys!”, the author say in his best prepubescent voice!….
I think that’s the kind of entrance I’d like this blog to make each week…and yes I have said each week, because I’m back to offer you my weekly brain burps on film that I have watched. I am sorry that I left you alone, and cold in the dark…again…but work got in the way. Saying that I am procrastinating from more work, by writing this actual blog…but…I truly loved this film so it most definitely worth the time spent writing and in fact reading.

Let me paint you a scene as you wind through a landscape populated with fairies, giants turned to, selkies and painfully tormented humans, Song of the Sea enthrals by merging the lines between the common and fantastical. Following on from his Oscar nominated début with Secret of Kells, director Tomm Moore’s second film with his team at Cartoon Saloon, is a far more personal piece.

Song of the Sea is part folk tale, part family drama, as Moore returns to the rich history of Celtic folklore, finding it lurking within the cracks of a broken family. Creating a powerful, yet refreshingly simple twist. Ben (voiced by David Rawle) lives with widowed father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) and his mute little sister Saoirse in a lighthouse. Ben prefers the simple companionship of this sheepdog Cu to Saoirse, for whom in a heartbreakingly complicated ball of emotion, he blames for the loss of their mother. So he clings to the vague, magical memories of her songs and stories as comfort from a cold, soulless father. To make matters worse, their sharp, stubborn Grandma (Fionnula Flanagan) arrives, coming up with the conclusion that only way to fix the family: take the children to Dublin, leaving Conor, and Ben’s beloved Cu behind. Just on cue, the night before their departure, Saoirse stumbles across hidden corners of their lighthouse, finding old family secrets that lie awaiting to be discovered.

Upon their arrival in Dublin, Ben is immediately determined to return, reluctantly taking Saoirse with him. Their journey submerses them into a fantastical, rich of history, myths and legends. *spoliers* There is something so enchanting about the way that the trio of stone fairies are discovered by the siblings in an overgrown roundabout in the middle of the town. The dialogue between the real world and the old world of legend doesn’t just lend itself to wondrous imagery, but also captures the ideas that hold real weight and are the driving forces within the film.

It is evident that Moore and everyone at the studio are proud for it’s Irish origins, honouring it’s folklore and culture, all the while technically taking the influence from 50’s American animation, Japanese anime and ancient Celtic art. Song of the Sea combines all these qualities, interweaving them in a compelling and original fashion. The studio uses every opportunity to take full advantage of the animated medium, delightful telling the story through shapes and symbols. The father, Conor, always hunched, sometimes over a Guinness in a dingy pub, has his sorrow echoed by a giant rock that lies offshore, curled over in an identical manner as if it bears the battering waves. Details like this are typical of the history found in every corner of each frame.

Such resonance weaves throughout the film, and demonstrates a devotion to theme shared with the best of children literature. This is evident as Ben and Satires travel deeper into the past, the world grows ever more fantastical, but not at the expense of the human story. Ben moves with the steely and passionate inconsistencies of primary-school boy, and Saoirse with the quiet, observant and playful demeanour of a real toddler coming to school age. Just like life, everyone is presented as flawed, complex creatures. As the background art enchants with wondrous colour and texture, the character animation is commendably reserved. It is a fantastic technique that the animators, who breathe life into the simple designs, using behaviour that hints each character being the mere tip of a human iceberg.

The reaches its ‘bell’ when the Owl Witch (also voiced by Fionnula Flanagan), bear uncanny echoes to Ben and Saoirse’s own lives. Her Obsession with “eliminating suffering” is an achingly honest mirror of Grandma, who strives, to the point of further damage, to heal. There is a robustness to the deceptive simplicity of Song of the Sea that is reminiscent to that of the great Hayao Miyazaki,with core plots similar to My Neighbour Totoro or Ponyo. Saying this, Moore and his studio contemporaries have made a truly unique world with a distinguished voice. But just like Miyazaki, Moore posits himself that hand-drawn animation in itself has a timeless quality that is impervious to age.

Scene 6 – The Wind Rises

So this week I was looking forward to seeing the new Studio Ghibli The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, a movie I have been waiting to since it’s scheduled release two years ago….However, when I arrived on the day of its release I found to my horror that the projector wasn’t working in my favourite cinema and it couldn’t be shown…what happened next will portray why it is my favourite cinema. So, I just found out about the projector, and I was upset about as much as finding out that the ‘Fat Jolly’ man that visits and gives you presents wasn’t actually real….truly heartbreaking. A quick as the words had left the lady who worked there’s mouth, she disappeared from behind the box office and appeared with free passes to see it another time. So, I got free passes to see the movie I wanted to see! And it’s not like had already bought tickets, I’d didn’t even get that far! So after the initial disappointed left..I took my hat off and saluted. That’s why the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin is one of my favourites!! Talk about customer care!!

This lead me to this weeks movie, The Wind Rises. The synopsis goes like this; the story is about a highly fictionalised biography of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi.  Jiro grows up with a fascination with aeroplanes. Realising that he would never be a plot due to his need to wear glasses he goes on to study aeronautical engineering and joins Mitsubishi in 1927 to designs planes. The Wind Rises tells the tale of how Jiro dreams to build beautiful planes…and in true Studio Ghibli style he does this with actual weird hallucinogenic dreams, were he actually visualizes his planes before he builds them. With every Ghibli movie the true focus of the film has a romantic core. Here it is split into two parts; the first, is your basic love story, the second, is historical. As I said previous,  Jiro joins Mitsubishi in 1927, just at the time when the main majority of plane building was for the army. The Wind Rises tells the tale of how Jiro is romantic about engineering (going on to build the A6M1 fighter, which is also known as Zero during World War II), but is torn by the fact that it is being used to kill.

The Wind Rises was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who arguably is one if not thee the most influential animation directors (probably battling it out with John Lasseter). Miyazaki probably deserves a ‘hat tip’ more-so due to his resistance of revolution of the medium that Lasseter and Pixar brought. Miyazaki’s movies are delivers such fine detail frame after frame, from lovingly fashioned scenes filled with stormcloud-suffuse fantasies to bizarrely filled menageries….and here again, Miyazaki doesn’t disappoint. Miyazaki is the master of blending numerous mythologies with hard-hitting issues such as environmentalism or pacifism, creating a coherent and recognisable output that is cultural transcending.

The director himself describes the film himself as a tribute to aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi and poet-novelist Tatsuo Hori. The fictional narrative…I say fictional because it includes dream dialogues with Italian aeroplane designer Gianni Caproni on the wings of his creations…actually, that does sound like a fact…and interweaves it with Horikoshi’s real life efforts to build the Zero fighter. The title takes its name from Hori’s novel The Wind Has Risen. Miyazaki also draws from his own personal history; his father was the director of the Miyazaki Airplane company, which manufactured parts for the Zero fighter; and his mother is portrayed as Nahoko…if you watch the movie you will understand what I mean in the latter half of the movie, without spoiling anything. So in-actuality, the movie is also a tribute to his own parents and his own childhood, considering the fact he was born 1941, and the final violent intakes of World War II.

The historical context does create fascinating tension, coming from someone with a Western view of things. We are essentially rooting for the guy who invented a death machine used on the behalf of an oppressive regime… pinch of salt moment? Possibly…
Miyazaki creates heavenly scenes were Jiro dances around in the clouds of his subconscious with machines that would bring hell upon the new world…actually when you put it like that….
Again Miyazaki deals with this masterfully.  For instance, during a seminar at Mitsubishi, Jiro sighs that his Zero prototype’s weight problem could be easily solved by removing the guns. “Airplanes are beautiful dreams, “ but they have become “cursed dreams”.  Jiro humbly observes how his country is making the world the enemy stating: “Japan will blow up”.  With that in mind, The Wind Rises won’t get the love in the West as some of the other Studio Ghibli films. Yet it shouldn’t be overlooked for its charm alone.

As if the romantic plot of taking something beautiful and changing it for war wasn’t heartbreaking enough…it also saddens me that The Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s 11th feature would be his final…probably the most heartbreaking plot twist… although the dream sequence with Caproni stating that he is retiring, “This is my last flight…Artists are only creative for ten years…”, a cheekily tearjerking pun from Miyazaki.

If we lived in the perfect world Miyazaki wish for where planes are just things of engineering beauty and not used for war, maybe animation directors would get recognition for just being directors. Instead of this film hierarchy looking down on animation, and ghettoising it you will. If this was the case Miyazaki would easily rank among the world’s greatest living directors, if it wasn’t animation’s war with the word ‘genre’.  So if you aren’t familiar with any Hayao Miyazaki’s work, do a Star Wars on them..and by that I mean watch the last in the series first and work your way back…its worth it!!

The Wind Rises is a stunning farewell to a truly imaginative director and writer, and more importantly…a master of film, Hayao Miyazaki.