Charmed by the Past

MV5BMjMzMzM2NTM2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTk4OTYwOQ@@__V1_SX214_I concede defeat. I have tried and tried, but I can’t quite figure out what makes Studio Ghibli’s films, particularly those in which Hayao Miyazaki has been involved, so emotionally satisfying. The phenomenal animation? Compelling stories? The touch of ma space? Case in point: I just finished watching From Up on Poppy Hill. If someone had told me the premise without telling me who was involved in the film, I’d be hitting the snooze button right about now.

Here is the premise: A girl (Umi), whose mom studies medicine in America and sea captain dad is presumed dead, works to help save a clubhouse slated for demolition at her school. All of this takes place before the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Um, yeah. Sounds like a real nail biter, huh?

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Hayao Miyazaki. He can grin, because I’m hooked on his movies.

Yet it was! There’s much more to the story than that—namely a budding romance and an extremely surprising twist. I’m a fan of both. Miyazaki wrote the film (based on a graphic novel) along with Keiko Niwa, and his son Gorō directed it. It debuted in Japan in 2011 and in the United States in 2013. If you’re used to movies like Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, you might have to switch gears a bit, since From Up on Poppy Hill is as different from either film as day is from night. I mean, yeah, they all feature a strong female lead. But most of Miyazaki’s films go that route.

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Okay. I’ll give figuring out what makes these films so special another shot, instead of letting my ignorance win the day. Maybe it’s the work ethic inherent in the films. Everyone works really, really hard. Even minor tasks seem compelling and noble. Take From Up on Poppy Hill. Umi cooks for the people who live in her family’s boarding house. Throughout the movie, she works hard with others to help clean the dilapidated clubhouse. Why? Because the students who inhabit the clubhouse are charmed by the past too, and think it worth preserving.

When Umi’s not cleaning the clubhouse, she’s hoisting signal flags (um, there’s a good reason for this), studying, or helping her new friend Shun with the newspaper produced by Shun’s literary club. Maybe for you, these activities sound about as interesting as watching paint dry. But what I find most charming about this story, and other stories about the past is the lack of technological conveniences. Life has a gentle rhythm. Relationships are forged not by texts or email, but by people hanging out and talking, working together, or through the exchange of long letters. Change comes about not by innovative software or high speed Internet, but by people meeting face to face and hashing things out.

This is one reason why I’m a fan of the classics and all of the lovely effort involved in relating to others or simply getting from Point A to Point B. There’s nothing instant about anyone’s journey. The past isn’t perfect, however, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my car. I enjoy a plane ride. My iPhone is awesome. But for sheer entertainment value, I like to journey back to the past, back to a day when a couple falls in love not through Facebook but through a long bike ride or a walk down a street. Ah. Those were the days.

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Movie poster from imdb.com. Princess Mononoke image from fanpop.com. Miyazaki photo from Wikipedia. Umi and Shun from movit.net.

Let’s Get Graphic

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In the comments section of my last post, I threatened to write a post about graphic novels. Here it is. If graphic novels aren’t your thing, I’ll save you the trouble and give you the punch line: It fits the theme of the last post.

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I grew up reading comic books. But I have my father to thank for my love of comics in general. He always read the comics in the newspaper. Following in his footsteps, I read them too. So, it’s only natural that I would gravitate to the graphic novel. I haven’t written one, though I’m a fan of the form. If you saw my bookshelves and living room floor, you’d believe that instantly.

Years ago, while searching on Amazon for graphic novels, I was surprised at how appalled some individuals were that authors like Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs wrote graphic novels for their urban fantasy series for adults. (I have one of Jim Butcher’s graphic novels on my shelf—Welcome to the Jungle, illustrated by Ardian Syaf.) Some individuals voiced their complaints, which boiled down to “graphic novels are just comics” or “graphic novels are for kids.” Expressions of disdain.

Because I grew up in a house with an adult who loved comics, I’ve never understood the prejudice against them. I admit I’m biased about them, since at one point I wanted to be an illustrator. But I’ve never thought of comic books or graphic novels as solely “for kids.”

6493842I’m not certain what age range is meant when commenters talk of kids and graphic novels. Middle grade kids or younger? Many graphic novels were written for kids, including
• Jeff Smith’s Bone series
• The Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon
• The Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (He’s the illustrator of the new covers for the Harry Potter series.)
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel—an adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, illustrated by Hope Larson
Sidekicks by Dan Santat
The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Cardboard by Doug Tennapel

And there are many others. By the way, the Bone series won 10 Eisners, which Wikipedia describes as “the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards.” It also won 11 Harvey Awards. I had to look those up:

The Harveys recognize outstanding achievements in over 20 categories, ranging from Best Artist to the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame. They are the only industry awards both nominated by and selected by the full body of comic book professionals.

Telgemeier also was nominated for an Eisner, but for another of her graphic novels—Smile.

118944Perhaps teens are the audience some would assign to graphic novels. Many graphic novels were written for young adults, including
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen & Faith Erin Hicks
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

And there are many others. 472331But I can’t believe anyone with the “graphic novels are just for kids” belief has ever cracked open Watchmen written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (or basically any other graphic novel by Alan Moore); Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series; Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli or any other Frank Miller graphic novel; Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi; Blankets or Habibi by Craig Thompson; or the Fables series by Bill Willingham. And I certainly can’t believe anyone who would sneer at graphic novels as if they were a lower life-form has ever read Watchmen, which appears on some best novels lists, or American Born Chinese, which won the Printz Award in 2007—the award for best young adult novel.

Perhaps the graphic novels’ position in the library leads some to conclude that they’re “just for kids.” At the library close to me, graphic novels are shelved in the teen section.

Anyway, I can understand that graphic novels are an acquired taste. Either you like them or you don’t. But why put down a hard-working author/illustrator team simply because they elected to add another form to broaden the appeal of a series? Is the belief that graphic novels add to the “dumbing down” factor of this country (and I’ve heard that opinion expressed in regard to some colleges which have courses on graphic novels) at the root of the prejudice toward them? I’m not really sure. So, I’m asking you. Have you heard anyone voice this opinion? What’s your belief?

Book covers from Goodreads