Final: Lotus of Worlds

Matthew Power

Professor Kevin Ferguson

Film Adaptation Seminar

9 May 2013

The moment two bubbles

are united, they both vanish.

A lotus blooms.

-Kijo Murakami

      This haiku is borne out through the understanding of adaptation theory that I have come to develop in studying the adapted work Howl’s Moving Castle, portraying with a particular finesse the nature of two worlds coming together. Is it within the Haiku, as a form of media, to do just this with its attention to language specific syllable form and use of seasonal metaphors blossomed from cultural experience? This concept has been observed in many more syllables by a number of scholars within the classic forms of poetry and prose, that is the use of long shared and sometimes multicultural themes, narrative elements, and signifiers, and the same should follow for the relatively fledgling concept of adaptation of these same (already multi-medium) stories to film. One idea I feel this particular haiku accompanies is that in the combination of the already established “original” form that was the author’s story, Dianne Wynne Jones fantasy novel Howl’s Moving Castle, and the creation of it’s “copy” that is Hayao Miyazaki’s animated adaptation of the same name, the individuality of each dissolved into the background, added to the wealth of stories which are told and retold, as after all a bubble is simply trapped air; and then the seasons change, marked in the arrival of a blooming flower. The consideration I posed of the Murakami haiku runs parallel to the the questions I ask of this other combined work. I seek to determine through the application of deconstruction, the analysis of cultural themes, and the examination of narrative and artistic elements the true nature of Miyazaki’s lotus of (at least) two worlds.

      In reality, though, the adaptation Miyazaki had a decisive handle over draws from many more than two worlds, and it is this on which I base much of my observation. Paul Wells notes in his essay from the journal Art and Animation titled “Floating Worlds, Floating Signifiers”the habits Miyazaki has displayed in his creation of new worlds, claiming he has “successfully fused dominant aesthetic models, drawn from both live action cinema and other pictorial arts, with the extensive vocabulary of the animated form, to an engaging effect.”(Wells 22) It is indeed the case that Miyazaki engages with conventions particular to Japanese art, to an effect manipulating them to his own design as opposed to adhering to them primarily/above all, properly demonstrated in the protagonist Sophie of Howl’s Moving Castle. Her manners and calm, controlled demeanor that viewers of the film perceive are a set of conventions one may expect from a female character, but also work alongside a strong, ambitious will trying to break from bonds of tradition in her pursuit of Howl on top of the fix to her curse which may be less familiar. Writers Kevin Moist and Michael Bartholow are critical toward the idea of Miyazaki’s appreciation for his ‘authorial leanings’ in another work of his, Porco Rosso, manifested in Howl’s as his signature development of the young and strong/strengthening female lead, attributing it to auteurist tendencies (Moist 27). This is not viewed negatively, however, as Wells notes the nature of Miyazaki’s manipulation of these elements to subvert “tenets of live-action films constructed on masculine terms”(Wells 23), where he supports his assertion using a quote from an interview with Miyazaki: “The reason I present the hero as a girl is probably because society traditionally accords control to a man, in Japan and in the rest of the world. We’ve reached a time when this male-oriented way of thinking is reaching a limit. The girl or woman has more flexibility. This is why a female point of view fits the current times.” What auteurist leanings are derived from, and occasionally what they are signified by, become the very traditions that are drawn from in the future as Miyazaki (and all other writers who are readers or consumers of media) drew from in creating not just Howl’s but all of his animated works, as they are simply developments at a point in time.

      Wells also notes a “significant act of non-Japanese cultural appropriation”(Wells 23) in Miyazaki’s manipulation of Disney artistic and narrational techniques, adapting around and incorporating the observed history of success. It may seem odd to consider the realism of motion and other such nuances in animation as culturally bound, but the case rests that much of Japanese animation used an almost conflicting technique in cel animation than what was used in American/Disney films. Japanese animation, or Anime, often made/makes use of more theatrical ‘shots’ in a way that would allow for less movement in a scene as a whole, but wouldn’t take away from the narrative they were attempting to present through the lack of motion within a particular background frame. Miyazaki instead tasked his animators to learn the “western” techniques, or at least techniques used in the west at the time, while also maintaining use of the vividly detailed backgrounds and shot layouts that Anime were so adherent to in their cel shading. The earliest deviations in animation that Miyazaki took are noted by writer Raz Greenberg detailing more of the ‘Roots’ of Miyazaki’s non-japanese stylings, as well as detailing further the significance of the trope of the female protagonist in Miyazaki’s early works. In his essay analyzing the roots on another of Miyazaki’s films, My Neighbor Totoro, he notes how western tales such as Pippi Longstockings and Heidi were adapted in the early 70s as Japanese viewers began to gain interest. Miyazaki had a hand in the production of these young western adaptations, as a script writer and animator, but not as a director where he would gain further fame in the future; that position was filled by Isao Takahata, who would later become a co-founder of the studio Ghibli. The adaptations Panda Kopanda (loosely adapted Pippi after a direct adaptation was disallowed) and Heidi, girl of the Alps both featured female characters who bear undeniable resemblance to the form that young females would take in Miyazaki’s later films, but infuse the given child with oriented narrative elements lending a more critical lesson/perspective. The example Greenberg provides finds the individual who is shamed by the antics of the Pippi character equivalent in both the original work and the adapted work; The original has the adults embarrassed about what Pippi has done, Pippi all the while shameless, where as Mimiko of Panda Kopanda visibly appears ashamed of the antics ensuing because of her adopted panda, a creature only in place due to the acknowledged death of her parents which is already of a more serious nature, therefore absorbing into her what is considered to be adult (Greenberg 99).

      Thusly it should be acknowledged that there is at least some connection between the strong female youth Mimiko with internalized adult values and Sophie Hatter, Protagonist of Howl’s Moving Castle, who is dictated in her world to be simultaneously an adolescent and an elder. This element is, however, one that Miyazaki chose to entertain fidelity toward as opposed to one of his own, perhaps one of the reasons he chose this particular story to adapt by extension. Nevertheless the signifier, which is to say the manifestation or form we see as signifying the less tangible idea, of a many aged and many mannered female remains and is manipulated in ways shared and unique between both mediums of Novel and Film. By extension, auterism would then simply become acknowledgment of the use of a palette, or database, by which an individual artist may familiarize themselves in the art of demonstrating the intricacies a select few themes, narrative elements or signifiers may entertain. Attributing every theme an author may grasp in a given work is incredibly difficult, though I assert plausible, and in this potential dissolution of all uniqueness one would find an ever distancing idea of the original. Robert Stam, in his “Introduction: the Theory and Practice of adaptation” classifies this vein of thought as one following Derridean Deconstruction, a concept of “Mutual Invagination”(Stam 8). Everything folds in to the meta-narrative eventually, adaptation just a literal representation of that happening where the newly created “copy” retains a name and some note of it’s foremost basis. Following, the presence of both commonalities and deviations from “original” to “copy” may than suggest some significance in the shift of media, auteur and potential cultural identity.

      Both the Film and the Novel representation of Howl’s Moving Castle make use of having the narrative follow the adventures of a cursed female who knows not her own power, but follow different paths of doing so. Dianne Wynne Jones’ version of Sophie is cursed first and foremost by her birth, the eldest of three daughters. We the readers know this because Sophie knows this, the narrator suggesting it repeatedly. This repeated acknowledgment of a theme throughout a work of a fantasy (of any scale) is a classic mechanic, similar to how there were two pigs who got their houses blown down before the third wised up. The presence of this manipulation of repetition is everywhere, however, and so it is far more difficult to say where the somewhere of origin is; suffice to say it is old. Despite the usual use of the convention however, Jones’ practically makes a parody of this element with her story, the strongest curse Sophie ended up afflicted with being the one of her own doing. With all these curses, though, the one that sends Sophie off on her adventure is the curse the Witch of the Waste places on her. It is a conflict overarching in the novel, the Witch a direct antagonist to Sophie and Howl throughout. This strict good and evil protagonist and antagonist layout is another standard convention, and one that Miyazaki frequently stirs on his palette. Miyazaki’s Sophie is still cursed by the Witch of the Waste, and is indeed fueled by that curse to embark on her adventure, however at a point in the film Miyazaki makes the turn to transform this witch into a victim causing Sophie and viewers to question the established orthodoxy of good and evil. Both works, brand-spanking-new and innovative relative to the aged genres they are within, acknowledge some convention/s and then subvert them in different ways even on the same signifier.

      Another example of a common element both Miyazaki and Jones explore is the presence of the black door, or the fourth portal exit from Howl’s moving castle leading to a place he will not speak of where only he may go. Throughout both media, the mystery of the door is hinted at and played with to the other characters in different ways. In the film we actually see Howl return from this portal quite early on, shown as an expansive darkness where he must maintain a magical bird form in order to fight off transformed and weaponized wizards spat like fighter planes from massive airships, dropping bombs on a black landscape, but Sophie is asleep at the time and so she remains unaware (Miyazaki 40:20). Film Sophie later voices her interest in the secrets the door holds during a key dramatic moment with Howl, concerned for his safety. In the novel the secret is kept further from the reader, building suspense for a later reveal and instilling some greater sense of significance due to it’s position as an unanswered question. It is almost transcendentally relevant what the Jones door holds: a portal to Howl’s world, the real world, the world that belongs to the author and the readers. He is a magician, a clever man without need for further explanation of the how, from a world foreign to the the world of the text, Ingary. Despite the apparent differences in the secret both authors decided to hide behind the black door, they manage to lead to a mechanically similar place. The reasoning behind this is derived from what Miyazaki was signifying in his transportation to the place where the fantasy world of Ingary is at war, a deviation from the text and a creation of Miyazaki rooted in inherent cultural and authorial concerns of violence that were happening at the time, particularly toward the conflict that was happening in Iraq. The novel brought readers to their own world so that they may better understand Howl, and by extension relate oneself to his evils, where the film reflected the realities of the viewers back at them so they may better question a repeating paradigm of cruelty.

      If there is only one convention that Miyazaki follows to the letter in his presentation of this film, it would certainly be the the idea of the fairy tale ending. The ending the novel provides is abstract and foggy, possibly left open for the eventual sequels that would come, deviating from the Americanized Disney fantasy path to happily ever after, but the film sends viewers to the skies. The final scene of the movie, just before the credits begin to roll, shows the castle that was previously crawling across the landscape of the Wastes is now floating above them, transformed into a signature flying machine of Miyazaki and housing the newly outfitted adoring couple of Sophie and Howl. They are in love, displayed by the modest kiss they share which shows off Sophie’s new silver hair; the color it remained after the loss of her curse, like a scar, a change from the novel where she regained her red-brown locks when the spell was broken. This ending strategy does not follow with Miyazaki’s earlier works I had mentioned at the start of the paper, devoid of lingering somber implications, nor does it follow some of the earliest Japanese animated features. The war Miyazaki formulated comes to a screeching halt as well in the ending scene, as it turns out, for Sophie breaks the curse of the missing prince that started the whole conflict by planting a kiss on the turnip-headed scarecrow he became, the same scarecrow following Sophie from the start, imbuing the end of the conflict with the significance. I find it an interesting and stark contrast that the first feature length Japanese animated feature titled Momotaro Umi no Shinpei(1945) treated the idea of violence and war lightly with cuddly little anthropomorphised animals throughout, as well as the legendary character of “peach boy” Momotaro, in a wartime setting, riding a wave of a Japanese-culture specific nationalistic moment; Miyazaki borrows from his own culture’s conventions, Calcifer an anthropomorphised demon made cute to boot with his tiny arms of flame and big, expressive doll eyes, but more significantly from other cultures to portray his take on the war theme in this ending, a silly little game that ceases with the snap of a queen’s fingers, demonizing it instead, re-establishing in his happy ending a newer cultural identity of peace.

      Through the multidisciplinary analysis of these narrative, artistic and thematic elements, the intangible nature of an idea of “original” reveals itself. The reason for this is that even the originality of what is being adapted must be drawn into question, Howl’s Moving Castle the novel having drawn from the databases of fantasy, English written history and countless other conceptual fields of written history, and so too must we question the originality of those potential sources, and so on into infinity. The film appeared multicultural on so many levels at first glance, a western written form adapted to an eastern animated form, but the copious manipulation of influence, perhaps masterfully managed by Miyazaki, only served to show the futility of assigning such concrete cultural boundaries in any medium, as there proved to be unavoidable interplay between many more than two “worlds”, and instead pointed to an absence of not just the “original” text but an “original” cultural influence.

Works Cited

Cavallaro, Dani. Anime And Memory, Aesthetic, Cultural And Thematic Perspectives.

McFarland, 2009. Print.

Greenberg, Raz. “Giri and Ninjo: The Roots of Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro in

Animated Adaptations of Classic Children’s Literature.” Literature/Film Quarterly. 40.2 (2012): 96-108. Web.

Miyazaki, Hayao, dir. Howl’s Moving Castle. Studio Ghibli, 2004. Film.

Moist, Kevin, and Michael Bartholow. “When Pigs Fly: Anime, Auteurism, and Miyazaki’s Porco

Rosso.” Animation 2.1 (2007): 27-42. Web.

Patten, Fred. “The Allure of Anthropomorphism in Anime and Manga.” The Japanification of

Children’s Popular Culture: From Godzilla to Miyazaki. Ed. Mark I West. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2009. 41-52. Print.

Wells, Paul. “Floating Worlds, Floating Signifiers.” Art and Design Volume 12.3/4 (1997):

22-26. Print.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email