Goro Miyazaki "Bittersweet Summer"

This photo comes from the Studio Ghibli DVD documentary, "Hayao Miyazaki and the Ghibli Museum." It includes appearances by Yuri Norstein and John Lasseter, and is narrated by Isao Takahata. Goro Miyazaki is also included, as you can see, since he was the director of the museum for a number of years. Now, of course, he's cautiouly followed in his father's footsteps with Gedo Senki (Tales of Earthsea).

The New York Times recently featured an article on the younger Miyazaki and the challenges of his first feature. It's an interesting read, and rather well researched; more often than not, American media reports on Studio Ghibli are embarassing in their ignorance. Thankfully, this time we haven't been subjected to endlessly tired Walt Disney comparisons.

I'm assuming, of course, that you already know something about Gedo Senki and Goro Miyazaki. The movie was released in Japan this summer to a warm reception and a tremendous success. I'm sure you're also aware that it won't be seen in America until 2009 at the earlies, because the Sci-Fi Channel owns the rights to Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea novels for their miniseries. Once again, the Americans will be left out in the cold, as another Ghibli movie is embraced throughout the world (Gedo Senki played at the Venice Film Festival, and will be released in Europe next year) before we ever hear about it.

Fortunately, the DVD will be released in Japan next summer, so we'll be able to import. More than likely, that will be our only option. We'll never see the film released in American theatres, and the DVD will be left to the whims of Disney. We've seen how many years it took them to finally release Miyazaki Senior's films, and you already know well enough about Umi Ga Kikoeru and Omohide Poro Poro.

In Japan, Gedo Senki has earned over $61 million by the end of September. The Times commits a typical Hollywood sin by comparing this unfavorably to the father's recent movies, which have generated $175 million (Mononoke), $200 million (Howl's Moving Castle), and nearly $300 million (Spirited Away). These are rough numbers, off the top of my head, so you may need to check the figures if you want precise numbers.

The point is that, under the Times' logic, Goro's movie is a disappointment ("the summer ended on a bittersweet note") since he failed to reach the numbers of his father. This is the same logic that holds that Pixar is washed up, since their last three features have pulled in fewer and fewer dollars. Finding Nemo made $400 million, The Incredibles made $300 million, and Cars made Therefore, the studio is running out of steam and Lasseter's movie is a failure.

If you're savvy, you'll realize the absurdity of this. It's patently rediculous, based on nothing more than the whims of the suits who can only compare numbers. In Goro Miyazaki's case, this criticism is even more absurd.

Japan has one-third the population of the US, and one-tenth the number of movie screens. The highest-grossing movies every year are comparitively very small, often around $30 million.

You really have to appreciate just how enormously successful Hayao Miyazaki has become in the past ten years. His last three films have grossed five to ten times as much as everyone else. For all intents and purposes, Miyazaki IS the Japanese film industry.

There hasn't been anything to compare that to, that level of dominance, in this country since Charles Chaplin. Steven Spielberg has maybe captured the cultural zeitgeist once or twice, when E.T. was a cultural phenomenon, for instance. But there's no one whose movies leapfrog over everything else, and do so consistently.

A Japanese movie that hits $200 million is like an American movie hitting $700 or $800 million. It's absolutely unheard of, unless you consider the highest-grossing movies of all time, adjusted for inflation. Then you'll see comparative numbers from Star Wars, Gone with the Wind, The Ten Commandments, The Sound of Music, E.T., Doctor Zhivago, and so on.

So let's go back to Goro and his movie. Gedo Senki sits at around $60 million, and will likely remain in theatres through the end of the year. The early estimates by Toho (the distributor) were that the final tally would reach $100 million. Again, that's a tremendous success in any case, even if the movie fails to reach that number. It's by far the biggest succeess of the summer, and pretty much the year.

The twisted way of reading numbers, and destroying whole careers, is one of Hollywood's greatest crimes. If anything finally does destroy the whol apparatus, it will be that. The endless rush for greater corporate profits, that complete reckless disregard for reality, is what's killing the movies in this country. In 20 years, there may not even be movies anymore; at the rate we're going, there sure as hell won't be movie theatres anymore. There's nothing bittersweet about sny of that. Not one damn bit.

1 comment:

Mr Invader said...

In short, I agree fully with what you say!

The full version:
Good grief! My cousin would have an absolute Field Day with this article.

And I to a lesser extent.

I would say thirteen of every fifteen movies in America wouldn't be worth wiping arse with if they were printed on Charmin! Goro-san pulling the kind of $ he has pulled so far on Gedo and the fact that.. has Hayao EVER made a suck movie? I Don't bloody think so! these are perfectly adequate reasons for Hollywood to drop and commit ritual suicide right now and turn it over to ppl who know what the heck they're doing! People such as the Scott family, Cronenberg, Scorsese, Jackson, Whedon, and Eastwood. Movie makers like these make the best movies possible but often get none of the respect they deserve.

There are Television series wherein one episode has more forethought and care for the motion picture artform than whole racks of the swill that flows from hollywood! And that is absolutely criminal. If only I could get my cousin to try out some of these shows, he'd abandon hollywood altogether for the cesspool that it's become.

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