Last Saturday marked the first time I've seen a Miyazaki film since returning home from a two year stint in Japan. The result? An unexpected nostalgia.
The quality of animation, character design, layout, scoring, etc. has been discussed at length already and by folks who are far better at articulating these points than I. So, I'm simply going to comment on the nostalgic charm I've found in Miyazaki's films, namely Ponyo and another favorite of mine, My Neighbor Totorro.
One thing Miyazaki is a master of, which many Americans may or may not fully appreciate, is capturing rural Japan in his layouts and backgrounds.
Kannari-cho, my 'hometown' in Miyagi-ken, is a spitting image of the small town in which Totorro takes place, complete with rice fields, moss-drenched forests, rickety buses, half-hidden stone statues, a single-car red train and cat-bus.
Okay, well, I wish the last one was true but you get the idea.
About an hour west of Kannari was the coastal town of Matsushima known for it's wind-worn islands and shrinking pines. Having ventured out to the islands several times, I'd be tempted to say this is where Ponyo's story plays out (although I'm certain it takes place somewhere further south).
Many people describe Miyazaki's films as 'magical', further mentioning Japanese folktales and mythology as heavy influences. I guess as 'Westerners', it's only natural that we find ourselves so intrigued by the East. Why is anime so popular? Because it's foreign to us. And this only heightens the sense of mysticism.
Yes, there is something VERY magical about this setting.
But there's also something VERY real about it. Japan actually looks like this. It's Elementary Schools, Senior Centers and bus stops actually look like that.
But to most Americans, these settings are foreign, yet welcoming and therefore, 'magical'. When I first saw Spirited Away, I was in love with the 'magic' of it. Watching it now, I'm still 'in love'. But there's a fondness mixed in now, a longing to be back there surrounded by that 'magic'.
I worked in 'that' Elementary School, I visited 'that' Senior Center, I lived near that house. The foreign became familiar and now I miss it. It's a strange feeling and one that I honestly don't know how best to describe.