published in Empire No.73, Sydney
Directed by the son of Hayayo Miyazaki, Goro, Tales From Earthsea bears the hallmark traits of his father’s sensibilty which defines the more commercially successful films from Studio Ghibli. A European fantasy novel is transposed into a chimera-like world resembling historical European landmarks but moving with the momentum of a Japanese tea ceremony. Having mysteriously and suddenly killed his father, young Prince Arren steals his father’s sword and sets off wildly into a world whose karmic balance is being destabilized. He crosses paths with the mystic wizard Ged who is sensitive to the ill-times befalling the land. Together they venture toward the castle of the creepily androgynous Kumo, who eventually captures Arren’s newly found love interest, Teru. And she ends up being far from any damsel in distress one imagined.
Frankly, that description makes it sound like some juvenile cape-swishing typical of the tawdry Anglophile fantasy currently strangle holding cinema. Tales From Earthsea is a wonderful antidote to such regressive olde world babble, but a plot summary in any review will not convey this. Earthsea‘s story structure is but the scaffolding for the staging of a Japanese mystical momentum dealing with cosmic balance, reincarnative cycles and global equilibrium. In line with Studio Ghibli’s consistent output, it is attuned to the subtle sensibilities of time, place and the interconnectivity of things far more than the mere journey of a hero.
Nature figures prominently in Tales From Earthsea. In some respects, one of the films’ deepest charms – again, definitely Studio Ghibli – is the romantic pastoral-style painting of lands, buildings and skies, all hued with brilliant tones and gorgeous graduations of colour. While so much fantasy cinema ejaculates its high-end CGI excesses right into your eyeballs, Tales From Earthsea excels in panoramic hand-painted watercolours with sumptuous flowing movement. The end result is more poetic than realistic, thankfully so.