Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What happened to Gedo Senki, Tales from Earthsea?

When a new animated film from Studio Ghibli is released in the US, it usually comes with anticipation and excitement, if not from major media then from devoted fans of director Hayao Miyazaki. The film Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki in Japan), based on the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin, was released in limited theaters this month, with mixed reviews and practically no buzz outside the anime community. The likelihood of it getting wider release is doubtful, judging by reports.

What happened here? There were many unfortunate circumstances surrounding this film. It was originally to be directed by Hayao Miyazaki himself, but he became too busy, so it was given to his son Goro who had never directed a feature film before. The film did well at the Japanese box office, but got mixed reviews and made only half the earnings of Ponyo. Then its release in the U.S. was delayed several years because of rights issues, losing any momentum from the Japanese release. And to make matters worse, the author herself was critical of the film (though she was a bit more positive than reports suggest, you can read her detailed analysis here.)

It’s frustrating when a project with such great potential falls short. The original book is a masterpiece, Ghibli is one of the best studios in the world, the design and production of the film look amazing. And yet a film is more than the sum of its parts, it needs that extra magic to pull it all together. I’ve seen it happen with so many films that didn’t live up to their books, both animated and live-action.

Here are the film trailers for the Japanese and U.S. markets. The Japanese one is much longer and contains a bit more of the Ghibli magic. It makes you wonder what might have been, had the elder Miyazaki had a chance to direct it.