The Studio Ghibli Retrospective: Tales From Earthsea
by Christopher Runyon
As has already been documented on the Retrospective, I wasn’t as big a fan of Isao Takahata’s Pom Poko or Hiroyuki Morita’s The Cat Returns as many others were; but neither of them were explicitly “bad” movies. While I wasn’t particularly amused by Pom Poko‘s surrealist brand of cultural humor, I appreciated how it managed to bring surprising depth and nuance to its eco-message, which could’ve been preachy and was instead handled maturely. The Cat Returns, on the other hand, was the studio’s most empty and light film at the time, but it at least had charm and likability to compensate.
I mention this because this week, we’ll be dealing with the first and so far only (in my opinion) “bad” movie to come out of Studio Ghibli. And Tales of Earthsea isn’t just bad. It’s actually pretty awful. An overly stoic, pretentious, boring, unimaginative trainwreck that just happens to have been made by some of the greatest animators in the history of Japanese anime. It brought to mind when I had to detail the monstrosity that was David Lynch’s Dune for his retrospective series, except whereas Dune was awful in very interesting, bizarre, hard-to-believe ways, Tales From Earthsea is just a cliched chore to sit through.
And like most ambitious yet misguidedly bad productions, the most interesting aspect of Tales From Earthsea‘s folly is, unfortunately, what happened behind the scenes. A fair amount of the studio’s feature films have been directed by other animators besides Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata at this point. But Earthsea bears the distinction of being directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki, who was not an established film director — let alone a director of animation –, thus turning this into a project fueled by legacy.
Click here to read the rest of Christopher’s detailing of Studio Ghibli’s black sheep.