Miyazaki: The Master, Snubbed by Oscars, on DVD Today

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The Oscars are only five days out, so I think it’s somewhat appropriate to give a shout out to the great Oscar snub of 2010, arriving in DVD stores today.

Judging by the fact that it only made $15 million, I’m not going to assume you know the name. It’s called Ponyo, was made by the Japanese animation icon Hayao Miyazaki, and when the all but unknown animated film The Secret of Kells wound up getting nominated for best animated film, it was Ponyo that was pushed off the list. A travesty, to be sure.

Not only is this a moving and heartfelt rendition of the Hans Christian Andersen fable The Little Mermaid, about a little fish girl befriending a young Japanese boy – learning to love life above the waves – but it features in Miyazaki’s handdrawn animation some of the most stunning images of last year. The opening sequence, in particular, as the fish child decides she wants to embark on a little adventure, and as her father brings the seas to life, is one of the most endearing, invigorating and hypnotic introductions to a central hero that I have ever seen. A symphony of wildlife rises from the depths, fueling the ocean and guiding this child on her way, and the ocean soars. (See the complete opening sequence here)

It is easily one of the most indelible cinematic scenes of 2009, and to sit back with the new Blu-Ray disc – hitting stores today – is to get lost in the odd rhythms that Miyazaki is able to create. His movies has such a quiet calm to them, such a careful appreciation of nature and the ways in which children come to discover their universes, that I have yet to find another filmmaker to match his charms. His movies are like my adult lullabyes. Once during college I made my way out three consecutive Saturday mornings in my pajamas to a nearby theater, eager simply to get lost in the calm of Spirited Away (the highest grossing film in the history of Japan). This would be my favorite scene from that masterpiece:

In addition to Ponyo, Disney is releasing a whole slew of other Miyazaki titles as Collector’s Editions today. Included in the list: My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service, about a 13-year-old girl apprenticing as a witch. Most of this is overdubbed in English – Kirsten Dunst plays Kiki – and Miyazaki has never been more accessible. Disney made the decision long ago to be this master’s conduit to American audiences. For the life of me, I don’t know why more families are going to see Monsters Vs. Aliens than these treasures. 

I’d highly recommend all these titles.

Now I’m just waiting for the big Miyazaki Blu-Ray set. This is the kind of animation bursting with detail, depth and dimension that absolutely screams out to be seen in high-definition.

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