Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Princess Mononoke

I'm trying to watch and review all of the Studio Ghibli movies... here's my 7th one:

Princess Mononoke (1997) is written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It has a similar theme to a lot of other Studio Ghibli movies (Castle in the Sky and Naussica as examples), the battles between humans and nature. The story follows the adventures of Ashitaka, who is a brave young warrior who battles a giant cursed Boar in the opening scenes of the movie. Mononoke means monster or spirit.

(This is the Japanese movie poster. I think you can see why they changed it for the US audience. A girl with a bloody mouth and a knife would not sit well on the walls of the local theatre)

The village elders convene and determine that he must journey to the West in order to find out what is happening there to drive evil their way, and possibly find a cure to his curse, which otherwise will kill him.

Arriving in the fortified mining colony of Tatara, he quickly wins the trust of the people there with his fighting skills. The town is battling the creatures of the forest, and San (a girl raised by a giant White wolf god) who are trying to stop the humans from chopping down all the trees to mine iron ore. Lady Eboshi (voiced beautifully by Minnie Driver in the English version), is leading the fight against the forest with her army and with guns. It turns out a pellet from one of these guns is what turned the giant Boar evil in the beginning.

Ashitaka meets and gains the trust of San which leads to animosity when he returns the town. There is conflict between the creatures live in the forest and don't want the trees to be chopped down and the humans want to destroy the forest in order to mine and build their town into a powerful and rich city. Even the humans are conflicted and complex characters.

Much of the movie is action packed battle with packs of giant creatures swarming through the forest. Ashitaka rides an Elk which is beautifully drawn and animated. The giant Wolf gods, Boars and the spirit of the forest are all believable yet extraordinary.

This is a new favourite of mine, a deep and sophisticated story, but quite light and filled with humour. I'm surprised I didn't come across it earlier, because according to the wikipedia page it was a huge hit in Japan; the highest grossing movie until Titanic in fact.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Housekeeper and the Professor

I love when a tip for a good book comes from such a random source as this one did. I was reading the website Quora, and the book "The Housekeeper and the Professor" was recommended in the comments to the answer to a question.

This is the story of a Japanese housekeeper and single mother who starts to take care of a 64 year old mathematics professor who was long ago injured in a car accident. As a result his memory lasts only 80 minutes, and although he can remember his past up to then, he can no longer form new memories.

The agency our housekeeper narrator works for has already sent 8 people before her to care for him, so no doubt there are difficulties. She is hard working and adaptable however, and receptive to him as he communicates in the only way he knows; via the timeless language of mathematics. When meeting someone for the first time (which may not really be the first time at all for them), he will ask for their birthday and find interesting properties of that number. For example the housekeepers birthday is 2nd Feb, 222, which forms an amicable number with 284, the serial number of his watch.

Maintaining some rudimentary form of long term memory via post-it notes on his suit, he remembers the housekeeper by a simple doodle, and that she has a son. He has a note prominently located to remind him "you have only 80 minutes of memory".

Soon he discovers that her son is a latch key kid, and tells her to bring him with her in future, and so she does. The professor loves children and his relationship with her son, who he calls root because his head looks like the square root symbol, is very warm and endearing.

The book reminds me of a sort of mathematics imbued version of Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch, because the characters connect through the sport of Baseball, just as in the latter they connect over soccer. This all starts when the housekeeper finds a box of baseball cards in the professors cupboard.

Yoko Ogawa, the author, is knowledgable and able pass on her knowledge and passion for mathematics and numbers to the reade. The whole book is about finding ways to connect with people, about the joy and timelessness of numbers and their properties. Despite being a translation from Japanese to English, there's no mistaking the truth and warmth of this story.

In case it's not clear, highly recommended.