Friday, July 06, 2007

A thousand light years from home

I regret to inform you that Chuckling on-line magazine will be going on a one week hiatus, maybe a little longer. The time has come when I must go out to the mountains and work on my 13 volume treatise on the films of Studio Ghibli. I’ve already drank the advance and still have roughly 4000 pages to write. I can hardly show myself in Manhattan.

My family has been trying to help. They gave me a stuffed Totoro for my birthday but the damned thing is freaking me out. It never blinks and that little package it carries gives off an ominous vibe. What I really wanted was a cat bus, but it’s probably a good thing I didn’t get it. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all with one of those freaks in the same room, much less write with it staring at me and flashing that fucked-up smile.

I was surprised to find myself fearing the little Totoro. There are some genuinely terrifying characters in Studio Ghibli fllms, but the Totoro’s are not among them. The movie itself doesn’t bother me in the least, not even the requisite little old lady. In Studio Ghibli movies, it’s usually the old ladies that give me the creeps. They are a big reason why I’ve gotten so far behind on the fourteen part treatise, well one of them anyway. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Spirited Away, which is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying films of all time, because of Yubaba, but I eventually sucked it up (or down to be more accurate) and got through it. I’ve watched it many times since. That’s the great thing about the Ghibli movies. They stand up to multiple viewings.

But even after conquering, or at least learning to tolerate my fear of Yubaba, I was still unable to get started on the 15 part series. The problem became ”how to start?“ I had to find an organizing principle. Most critics fall into the trap of the commonalities. Flying machines, pigs, little girls, little old ladies, nature, magic. Yes, those things are in most, if not all, Studio Ghibli movies, but they do not define them. That’s the problem. Nothing defines them, not in a storytelling sense anyway. They are certainly well-drawn, but that only defines them to a limited extent. The stories are the thing, and they are hard to grasp.

So I’ve scaled back my ambitions. Rather than tackle the entire ouvre from the start, I’ll begin with what I think of as the spirit trilogy -- Totoro, Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. One could argue that Howl’s Moving Castle belongs in this group as well and perhaps it does. But for now I’ll leave it at that.

If you, reader, have not seen these films, I suggest you watch them in that order, then if you have any insights that would help fill out my 12 volume treatise, please feel free to share.