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Gedo Senki - Tales from Earthsea

Postcard
Tales from Earthsea is Studio Ghibli's animated film adaption of acclaimed writer Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea. The movie is based on her third book in the series, "The Farthest Shore." Ursula K. Le Guin relented her long resistance to Studio Ghibli's overtures to adapt her books after seeing Spirited Away.

The film was originally intended for world renowned Hayao Miyazaki to direct but he was busy making Howl's Moving Castle. Earthsea was instead the debut film for Goro Miyazaki, his eldest son, as director.
Tales from Earthsea
Gedo Senki
ゲド戦記
Film - 110 minutes
July 29, 2006 (Japan)
Studio Ghibli
Director
Goro Miyazaki
Producer
Toshio Suzuki
Music
Tamiya Terashima
Theme
Teru's Song (Aoi Teshima)

Sneak Preview - July 19, 2006

RCC Hiroshima held the premier of Gedo Senki (Tales from Earthsea) in Hiroshima Prefecture and the producer, Toshio Suzuki, and the director, Goro Miyazaki, came out to chat after the movie. The lucky recipients of tickets got watch the movie a full ten days in advance of its Japanese opening date at Vault 11 in Diamond City.

It's horrible to say but the only bad part was the RCC presenter who babbled on, mispronounced the movie name and gave possibly the worst interview imaginable.

Plot Changes

Tales from Earthsea, is based on the plot and theme of the third Earthsea book, "The Farthest Shore." Ghibli did their best to make it a standalone Ghibli movie and so the movie drops almost all the references to the mythology built up in the prior books and foreshadowed for the next. With all those wonderful parts left out, the lobotomized story would have been about Ged and a teen getting lost at sea and learning to love each other in a boat if they didn't meddle some more.

Instead, I'm almost glad they ripped characters, settings and subplots with wild abandon from the fourth book, "Tehanu." It's a much better movie because of these changes but it's also the case that much of the soul and character of Earthsea was lost. Many settings felt eerily familiar. The finale channels two settings, two plots and adds characters together to make a fine mess of everything.

The movie manages to, at least partly, render the mythologies of Earthsea onto the movie screen. On the other hand, much is missing about Ged and how magic works in Earthsea. Moving the "evil twin" problem to Arren neatly ties up the new plot but removes much of Ged's original motivation and the emotional weight he has as a character in the books. Many more subtle points and nuances of the book survive poorly in the movie.

Plot Overview

The movie, like the book, casts Ged as a supporting character to Arren's journey of spiritual growth. No knowledge of Earthsea is assumed by the movie and Ged's previous accomplishments aren't touched on in detail. The movie starts out among the islands and cities of Earthsea but moves to Tenar's farm for the rest of the movie.

Characters

  • Ged: The wandering mage is investigating a magical disturbance when he finds Arren.
  • Prince Arren: Arren is haunted by his actions and loathes his indecisive nature.
  • Therru: A young women staying with Tenar. Abandoned by her parents.
  • Tenar: A caring women and old acquaintance of Ged's. Lives on her farm with Therru.
  • Cob: A necromancer and Ged's nemesis. Disturbing the balance of the world to gain eternal life. (Known as Kumo in Japanese)
  • Hare: Cob's faithful but not very reliable or brave hired goon. (Known as Usagi in Japanese)
center//Gedo Senki Poster
Gedo Senki Poster

Review

Gedo Senki has the same feel, polish and visual style of other Ghibli movies. Goro Miyazaki's rather dark and tense story about the importance of life is solidly aimed at older teenagers. It is a testament to the storytelling that the movie can discuss so many dark and taboo topics and resolves them successfully without needing an offensively simple solution.

For a first time director, Gedo Senki is technically a decent achievement. A few awkward cuts and verbose dialog weigh down some parts. The biggest problem is that the flow of dramatic tension of the movie crashes and red lines in the penultimate act. Fortunately, it rises from the dead like a phoenix in the build up for the finale.

The movie was produced in just over 8 months which contrasts with the 16 months Spirited Away took. Instead of an all out visual feast, the movie paces itself for a few important scenes. Its simple animation and plain backgrounds don't in any way hinder the story.

I give the movie 4 out of 5 stars. Ultimately, it's more a borrowing of ideas than an adaption of Earthsea. Technical issues aside, the movie energetically tackles importance of life and having the courage to face the challenges that becoming an adult entails. Rarely do movies talk so openly and effectively about the morals of the will to live and giving up on life. For that reason alone, it gains an extra star.

About Goro Miyazaki

Goro Miyazaki (宮崎吾朗) is the eldest son of Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎駿) who is internationally famous for his animated movies. Goro Miyazaki has spent most of his life following his own path and not that of his frequently absent father. He is not an animator by training (Forestry Science) or trade (urban landscaping). Some might think his following in his father's and mother's footsteps as destiny. Instead, on his mother's urging and own volition, he lived his own life and only joined Studio Ghibli to work as the Ghibli Museum Director from 2001 - 2005.

From 2003, he decided to join the group researching the Earthsea books and became the core member of the Gedo Senki project. The producer, Toshio Suzuki, decided he was the natural choice for director and approached his father to allow him to direct.

Notes
  1. The official English title is also the name of an unrelated book of short stories set in Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.
  2. The Japanese title, Gedo Senki (ゲド戦記), translates as "Ged's war chronicle" or "Ged's tales of the war."
  3. Special thanks to Nausicaa.net for all the wonderful information on their site.
  4. RCC Hiroshima regularly holds movie previews before the official release date and draws from entries mailed on return post postcards to award free movie tickets. It's embarrassingly easy to win.
  5. I would like to thank Goro Miyazaki and Toshio Suzuki from Studio Ghibli for showing up for the Hiroshima premiere. They were an interesting pair. Mr. Suzuki is quite "media friendly." Mr. Miyazaki is the opposite but very polite and genuine.
  6. Tales from Earthsea will debut in 2009 in North America when the license granted for a previous Earthsea TV movie ends.
Tales from Earthsea
Tales from Earthsea
Tales from Earthsea

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