Was excited to watch this because I’ve read the first book of the Earthsea novels, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, and I wanted to see how Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son, would keep up with his father’s legendary filmmaking magic under Studio Ghibli. My verdict? Despite not-so-rosy feedback from critics and reportedly from the author herself, I personally liked most of it. Here’s why.
- It’s a visual treat. The magic of the fantasy realm is in this land where dragons, men, wizards, mages, and witches co-exist. The color palette is rich and warm in the introduction of town life. Here’s an example of an early scene that started to impress me (it’s a screenshot so it doesn’t do justice).
- The music is lovely. The orchestration for the whole film is really good and perfectly enhances every scene, but Teru/Therru’s song was a particularly haunting and moving a capella even Arren cried in this scene! Here’s a YouTube clip of the lyrics in Japanese, English, and Vietnamese. The second song is a closing one, typical of animes.
- The themes were demonstrated well (spoiler alert). Despite the narrative’s failure to be cohesive, two sets of themes saved it. I initially thought that the protagonist, Arren, was running away from a dark shadow. However, the plot twist was that he was more of a captive of his darkness, and it was his “light” side that was following him!
It also tackled about the desire for eternal life and the fear of death, which the antagonist wanted to gain from his use of magic/alchemy. Invincibility meant control, and Arren’s teen existential angst was emphasized by losing his will to live as he has succumbed to darkness, but Teru argued to knock him to his senses.
- Roles were consistent with Ghibli stereotypes. As always, the teens saved the world. Teru is a fierce young lady that Arren is such a wimp until he redeems himself, and the adults had the trust in the young ones to figure things out. And can I just add that Lord Cob is the stuff of nightmares???
I’ve spoken about the good stuff, and now I’m about to drop the bomb on this one: the story doesn’t quite make sense. Why? Because this adaptation is a mix of elements in Le Guin’s novels, hence her critical disappointment despite being a good-looking piece of work. What I read as a novel was the life of a younger Ged, the archmage in this story, but this was sort of a spinoff. The burning question in my head was why Arren did what he had to do because it didn’t have any clear purpose other than he was taken over by evil spirits or something. That could be a probable reason for committing that “sin,” but it felt stretched. It’s understandable that the Le Guin fan base would want to shun this project, but as a Ghibli fan, I still find it remarkable.
It is a must-see for a fantasy ride. I will place this high over some mainstream Hollywood blockbusters, honestly.