Love and Theft and Goro-San
(This is a continuation of an excellent discussion about Goro Miyazaki and Tales From Earthsea. What began as a set of snarky gags by me evolved into a more thorough discussion on Goro, his movie, and the issue of originality, theft, and the artist's vision.)
Bono has this great line from Achtung Baby, "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief." And that's true of just about everyone. But it's doubly true of the young and growing artist.
That's just the nature of the game. You study hard, and as you slowly absorb your influences, your work evolves from copying the old to innovating the new. I know this from my own experience, and as much as I hated it in my 20s, I knew the process would take a lot of time.
There was an art teacher from Chicago who caused me no shortage of grief for his assertion that an artist shouldn't be taken seriously before they turn 30. Oh, boy, did I hate that. But now that I'm a bit older, I can appreciate his wisdom. True vision requires a period of gestation. Before your unique vision emerges, you are really just copying your idols and repeating the lessons of your teachers.
I've been a writer almost as long as I could hold a pencil, and it's really only in the past few years that I became good at it. Writing long essays was especially difficult, and it took me many years to become more comfortable with that. Thank goodness for the blogs, that's all I can say.
Now back to the Miyazaki clan, and Goro's movie, Tales From Earthsea (Gedo Senki). It's no secret that Father Miyazaki was greatly influenced by French animators like Grimault. The King and the Bird was a major inspiration for everyone at Toei Doga, as you can see from the great castle chase in Toei's 1969 movie Puss in Boots.
That castle sequence, animated in tag-team fashion by Miyazaki and Yasuo Otsuka, has been seen in Castle of Calgiostro, Nausicaa, The Cat Returns, and, of course, Goro Miyazaki's Tales From Earthsea. There are also various poses and shots that have been riffed endlessly. Needless to say, they've been stealing from Puss in Boots for ages.
And, of course, all of this points back to Grimault, who was a flashpoint for the Toei gang of the '60s. Isao Takahata claims this was the movie that inspired him to pursue a career in animation. And the roots of his genius lie in the cinema giants of the West - the French New Wave, the Italian Neorealists, Jean Renoir, Igmar Bergman, Orson Welles.
All of this brings us finally to Goro, whose movie begs, borrows, and steals from his father's work. There's good and bad in this, and I suspect if he were 20 years younger, we'd cut him more slack. He's on his first movie, and it's clearly going to take time to discover his voice.
Gedo Senki, really, is about the son who is haunted by his father's shadow. Theirs is a complicated relationship, full of ancient animosities and lost chances. And Goro certainly did himself no favors by publicly airing his grievances with his father. I think this is the real reason for the Goro backlash, and the harsh treatment of his movie.
At least, that may be the case for me. I found it very difficult to approve of his movie, when his childish tantrums overshadowed everything. The hero of the movie was a sulking, whiny teenager, and so was Goro.Then he compounds this family melodrama - "Hayao Miyazaki earns zero points as a father" - with a movie that plays like a highlight reel of Father's career. Horus, Heidi, Nausicaa, Shuna no Tabi, Puss in Boots. I'm frankly surprised the Cat Bus didn't make an appearance. Remember that scene in Pom Poko with all the Ghibli cameos? Tales From Earthsea is two hours of that.
Ahem. Not to become too critical of Goro or his movie. I happen to think he is highly intelligent, and he is closer to his father than either of them would admit. He's capable of better work than this. The key is whether he manages to learn and grow in the meantime. His Ghibli Museum exhibit, where he plans out and storyboards two stories - Ghibli sent him to film school, in other words - shows growth and promise.
I'm very surprised at how much attention Goro Miyazaki receives from the Ghibli Freaks and anime fans in general. He certainly draws the heated discussions out. So the eyes are still upon him, waiting to see if he can succeed or fail. It's his trial by fire, and if Goro-san wants to inherit his father's throne (Studio Ghibli), he will have to earn it.
Goro's next movie will be the main event. His reputation will be made or broken. I would even expect Gedo Senki's reputation to improve over time, if only because it inspires so much fierce attention. This is the one Ghibli film that everyone argues about. I wouldn't say it could become a good movie, because it isn't, and it won't. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it elevated to the level of "controversial," to become respected in the larger scope of Goro's career. It all depends on what happens next.
Tales From Earthsea is the story of Goro Miyazaki. Both are destined to share the same fate.