No graphic novel blog is complete without at least a hat-tip to the many graphic novel based movies that are out there. Recent years have seen many superhero movies, especially from Marvel Comics in preparation for The Avengers movie. There has been talk for years about a Wonder Woman movie, but no one has yet been announced for the title role. While female superheroes are in short supply, there is no shortage of heroines in manga movies. Below are three examples from Hayao Miyazaki, one of the founders of Studio Ghibli and the author of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. They all star strong girls doing extraordinary things, and all of them are interesting and lots of fun to watch. Highly recommended!
Howl’s Moving Castle
I love this title because it is based on a novel by Diana Wynn Jones, one of my favorite YA fantasy authors. Sophie is a 19-year-old girl who has worked all her life in her family’s hat shop, resigning herself to a dreary existence because she thinks of herself as very plain. When the wicked Witch of the Waste comes into her shop and turns her into a 90-year-old woman, Sophie finally sets off on an adventure. She finds the moving castle and moves in, telling them she is a cleaning lady and winning over Howl’s apprentice, the fire demon Calcifer, and eventually Howl himself. Along the way she gains a menagerie of friends, including a scarecrow and a wheezing dog, and helps Howl end a horrible war. It’s a fantastical adventure, full of fun and thrilling moments. Sophie, like so many of Miyazaki’s heroines, discovers hidden depths and is able to bring peace and harmony by loving the people around her.
The movie was dubbed into English by some amazing stars, including Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal. I prefer the undubbed version, but it is funny to hear Christian Bale as Howl.
Howl’s Moving Castle. Walt Disney Pictures/Studio Ghibli, 2006. Rated PG.
In this fantastic animated movie, Chihiro and her parents are moving to a new house. On their way they find a seemingly abandoned amusement park where her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro, left on her own, cannot get out of the park before sundown. When darkness falls, Chihiro finds herself in a strange new world, where the amusement park turns into a vacation spot for the local spirits. A strange boy named Haku saves Chihiro and tells her to get a job from Yubaba, the witch who runs the resort. Chihiro befriends the other workers, heals a polluted river god, and rescues a “No-Face,” a voracious spirit. Finally she has to save her friend Haku, meeting along the way Yubaba’s twin Zeniba. Chihiro’s courage, resourcefulness, and love allow her to rescue her friend and her parents. This is a spiritual, magical journey. It has some scary moments, but overall it is a wonderful film. Chihiro, like so many of these heroines, provides a model of what ordinary girls are able to do when tested.
Spirited Away. Walt Disney Pictures/Studio Ghibli, 2003. Rated PG.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki is a thirteen-year-old apprentice witch who is spending a year alone in a big city far away from home (a tradition for new witches). She goes with her cat, Jiji, to a beautiful seaside town, where she makes a living doing the only thing she knows well – flying! She experiences the usual struggles of a thirteen-year-old: boys, the desire to fit in, and the need to find out more about herself. Kiki, like so many of these girls, is adventurous, headstrong, and charming. Her anxieties are the usual teen and pre-teen anxieties; anyone of that age (or older!) can recognize themselves in her. It’s a fun, moving film, and comes highly recommended.
As with Howl’s Moving Castle, this animated feature was dubbed by famous actors, including Kirsten Dunst and Phil Hartman.
Kiki’s Delivery Service. Walt Disney Pictures/Studio Ghibli, 2003. Rated G.