For Goro Miyazaki, the summer ended on a bittersweet note. This 39-year-old filmmaker had the pleasure of seeing his first movie, the animated feature Gedo Senki, or Tales From Earthsea, blossom into the biggest hit of the summer in Japan, as it rose to the top spot and took in more than US$61.4 million by the end of last month.
But even his success brought inevitable reminders that he is, after all, the other Miyazaki. His Oscar-winning father, Hayao, regarded by many critics as the greatest director working in animation today, has earned much more with his own hits. Ursula K. Le Guin, author of the popular Earthsea novels, on which the new film was based, went out of her way to make the distinction on her Web site, calling the father “a genius of the same caliber as Kurosawa or Fellini.” She went on to complain about the liberties Goro and his new film took with her work.
“Of course a movie shouldn't try to follow a novel exactly — they're different arts, very different forms of narrative,” she wrote. “There may have to be massive changes. But it is reasonable to expect some fidelity to the characters and general story in a film named for and said to be based on books that have been in print for 40 years.”
So the younger Miyazaki can be forgiven a bit of weariness. “Sometimes I wish hadn't entered the same profession as my father,” he said, speaking through an interpreter during an interview at Studio Ghibli, headquarters of Hayao Miyazaki and the director Isao Takahata, in this suburb of Tokyo. “I realized for the first time how difficult it is to be the son of Hayao Miyazaki. If I weren't involved in animated filmmaking, I would just have a simple, quiet, normal life.”
The film received an enthusiastic response at the Venice Film Festival this summer and is set for an eagerly anticipated European release in 2007.
Miyazaki based Gedo Senki primarily on The Farthest Shore, the third book in Guin's series, in which Ged, the Archmage, and Arren, Prince of Enlad, must defeat an evil sorcerer whose efforts to cheat death are destroying the balance that governs the realm of Earthsea. But Miyazaki added elements from the other novels and changed some aspects of the story. In the opening of the film, the darkness falling over the world causes Arren to stab his father; his quest for an escape from his crime leads him to Ged and the eventual confrontation with the sorcerer.
As a teenager Miyazaki read the Earthsea books, and he originally planned to make a faithful interpretation. “But as I continued on the project, I realized that adapting the story exactly was not really what I should do,” he said. “In order for me to speak to younger audiences, some changes had to be made because of the gap between when the book was written and when I made the film. I feel that metropolitan culture is becoming a dead end and there's nowhere to go. I can't just shout, ‘Return to nature,’ but we need to rethink how we can live in cities yet remain close to nature.”
Le Guin offered a balanced response, saying: “I thought the moral lectures in the film were spoken eloquently. In fact they were often quoted pretty directly from the books. But I didn't see how the action of the film justified them. They felt pasted on to me. I did not understand why Arren stabs his father, nor how and why he earned redemption.”