How often do we hear it? "They're going to retire." Fill in the blank with your favorite artist, sportsball athlete, writer, director, or musician making the announcement either due to exhaustion, annoyance, or dissatisfaction with the industry.
My first experience in the way-too-early retirement announcements was by none other than Todd Shaw a.k.a. Too $hort. In 1996 he announced his retirement before ultimately un-retiring with his 11th album, 1999's Can't Stay Away. While Shaw's (and most other people's), reasoning usually comes down to money, rather than the insatiable need to create, Hayao Miyazaki had a more animated rationale for his retirement, which he offered up in a 2002 interview with Roger Ebert. "I wanted to retire ... but life isn't that easy," said Miyazaki. "I wanted to make a movie especially for the daughters of my friends. I opened all the drawers in my head; they were all empty. So I realized I had to make a movie just for 10 year olds, and Spirited Away is my answer."
Miyazaki's somewhat self-deprecating response ( for the first time he came out of retirement no less) doesn't match his creation. In the slightest. If anyone has ever seen Spirited Away, they recognize that there is more going on than merely the story of a young girl working a magical amusement park. Like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz, the seemingly wide-eyed exterior is hiding themes of identity and the duality of humanity. Like most good children's stories, there are also moments that nightmare fuel is made of. I mean, even now, after years of horror movie desensitization, the idea of my parents turning into pigs makes my eyes bulge.
This Saturday, the Charleston Music Hall is hosting its inaugural Miyazaki Film Festival. Four films created by the festival's namesake Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, will be showcased while 2Nixons' Chef Jeffrey Stoneberger will be serving up some ramen dishes in the lobby. All the Miyazaki madness begins at 1 p.m. and concludes with its final screening at 9 p.m.
For the uninitiated, here's a little bit of what you can expect from the auteur of anime that has, by my count, retired four times already. He's now working on his first CG animated feature, Boro the Caterpillar, based on his short film of the same name.
With Kiki's Delivery Service, a 13-year-old witch-in-training has to spend a year on her own before she can become a full-fledged witch. Before long she and her faithful feline, Jiji, wind up broomsticking around until taking up semi-residence in Koriko. In exchange for some room and board, Kiki does deliveries for local baker, Osono. Lessons are learned and anime eyes widen but, because it's the world of Miyazaki, there is more to it than just the potential diabetic overload of animated sweetness. First off, the fact that these characters, witches most notably, exist and are accepted in society is some next level stuff. Also, no one is really a villain in this coming-of-not-quite-adult-age story. The relatively strife-less film is able to engage purely on wonder alone. That's rare in films, much less anime.
From an altogether different physical perspective, Howl's Moving Castle revisits the coming of age motif and tackles an anti-war theme as well. Our main protagonist is a young woman, Sophie, who encounters a wizard named Howl, the owner of a snazzy moving castle. This encounter ticks off the lovingly named Witch Of The Waste. The witch uses her haterade powers to transform the 18-year-old woman into a 90-year-old. In her quest to find a cure, Sophie meets a scarecrow named Turnip Head, an asthmatic dog named Heen, and most significantly, Calcifer, a fire demon who controls the moving castle. A shady deal is struck between the desperate Sophie and Calcifer, who is imprisoned in the moving castle, that will create havoc.
Spirited Away is the most popular in the film fest lineup. It made over 200 million bucks worldwide and nabbed an Oscar for Best Animated Film. That likely has to do with its classic fairy tale leanings. A child, in this case Chihiro, leaves her stifling reality, her parents, behind for a wonderland. Eventually the magical awesomeness rolls over to reveal its cruel underbelly. We meet an entity named No Face that just ... well, just watch the movie. It's that animated movie you show your mom as an example of what the form can truly achieve.
Who doesn't love a good post apocalyptic landscape? Miyazaki does. In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, based on his manga, a young princess, Nausicaa, tries her best to bring peace to a land threatened by The Fukai, a toxic jungle that has overcome the Earth's surface. While the remaining humans hide in enclaves, uber ginormous insects have become a dominant form of life. This eco-fable, on par with many of the live fantasy flicks of its era, is a feast of dystopian weirdness and badass action. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was not only Miyazaki's first wholly original film but also the film that birthed Miyazaki's animated film company, Studio Ghibli.
Miyazaki Film Fest. Sat. June 16
1-9 p.m.$36/four film pass, $12/film.
Charleston Music Hall. 37 John St.