Tag Archives: Michio Mamiya

The Little Norse Prince

Toei Doga Studio

Written by Kazuo Fukazawa/Directed by Isao Takahata/Produced by Hiroshi Okawa/Music by Michio Mamiya

One day, young Hols finds himself pursued by a huge pack of wolves, and taking refuge on a mound of rock, discovers that he has inadvertently awakened a stone giant. Fortunately for him, the giant is fairly beneficent, particularly after Hols pulls out a sword that has been stuck in the giant’s shoulder and bothering him. Indeed, rather than being antagonistic to young Hols, the giant predicts that the boy will defeat the evil frost wizard in the north with that very sword. Later that same day, Hols’ father gives his dying wish: that Hols would return to the north and avenge their people–of whom he and Hols were the only survivors–by defeating the very same evil wizard. Setting off with his best friend, the bear Coro, and with his new sword on his back, Hols sets out on a journey that will change his life . . . for better of for worse.

I have mixed feelings, somewhat, over The Little Norse Prince, although mostly my impressions are positive. I think most of my negative impressions are simply because of what the movie inherently is: older, the work of a young director, and the retelling of an old epic (and therefore somewhat set in what the plot must be). Still, I think I love it for those same reasons. The movie was originally released in 1968 as the debut work of the wonderful Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli fame–and it’s incredible how much you can see of his trademark writing even in such an early work, in the rich, varied nature scenes particularly. It retells an old Ainu epic, but places the setting in Ice Age Scandinavia, which is really interesting because of all the random cultural details that get woven into the story. As for the story itself, it’s a bit predictable, but it mostly works–although I just can’t bring myself to like the character Hilda or to be okay with her all-too-easy redemption and reunion, even though the writers do bring out the fact that she struggled through her dark side to come to the point of redemption. Still. The animation is decidedly old, absolutely, but still pretty and dynamic for its time–I found the way the creators used pans of larger still shots in this movie to be quite interesting. In general, if you like older films–and particularly if you’re interested in the older works of Ghibli’s people–The Little Norse Prince will probably be pretty interesting; if you only like modern movies with lots of special effects and stuff, don’t bother.

 

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Gauche the Cellist

Oh! Production Studio

Written & Directed by Isao Takahata/Produced by Kōichi Murata/Music by Michio Mamiya/Based on the Short Story by Kenji Miyazawa

Gauche is a simple, quiet man who lives by himself in the country near a small town in the early 1900s. He keeps a garden and plays the cello for the local orchestra, which performs concerts and also accompanies the silent movies that are currently in vogue. The Beethoven that the orchestra is planning to perform soon, however, seems to be a bit much for him, and he never can seem to satisfy the conductor. Throughout the week before the concert, Gauche has a stream of unexpected visitors–nearby animals who have been touched by his music and who want him to play for them again. He ends up playing through the night and going to bed exhausted in the morning, never realizing that while he’s playing for his woodland visitors, he’s also getting a great deal of practice.

I found Gauche the Cellist to be an enjoyable tale providing a placid look into a bygone era. It’s based on the short story of the same name by Kenji Miyazawa, which was originally published in the 1930s. The story itself is bucolic and almost fable-like; it’s certainly not meant to be taken as a true slice-of-life story. You’ve got talking animals, nights that go by in a flash, and various other improbably happenings. Still, it works in an old-fashioned way. One of the most outstanding aspects of this movie is the music; rather, music is the heart of the story. There is a great deal of classical music worked into the soundtrack–often with a Tom and Jerry-like effect, although also at times with a more Fantasia sort of feel. The animation is definitely old-school, but nice for all that. I love that the director is one of the co-founders of Studio Ghibli–and I must say that this has a somewhat Ghibli-like tone. I think Gauche the Cellist is a pleasant, simple movie that would be great to watch with children–or as a nice change from the clangor of much of today’s movie-writing.

 

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