Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Earthsea : There Be Dragons...

...Whose danger is greater than you think, and whose nature you wouldn't, at first, suspect.

It’s been some days now, since Miyazaki Goro’s first movie premiered in Japan. Gendo Senki is based on the Tales of Earthsea books by Ursula K. Le Guin.

This cycle of four books is, in my opinion, one of the very best fantasy has to offer. I read it almost twenty years ago, when I was a surly and haughty teenager. I remember how Ged appealed to me and talked to me. Many details of the plot, many details of the characters have gathered so much dust in the corners of my memory that they’ve become fuzzy, and can no longer be made into something coherent or clear. But what I have kept to this day, and will always keep in my heart, are the feelings, the emotions the books gifted me with. The sensation of a unique atmosphere, the very feeling of that universe, and of the people living in it.

To be honest, I had never really wondered about the color of the characters’ skin. It’s not something which bothers me or matters to me. I don’t remember feeling awkward or wondering what was going on at having characters which were mostly dark in color. I am probably one of those blind, white fools who can afford not to care (yes, I do happen to think that some people are so keen on this issue that they become abrasive and trigger a rejection reaction or a “gods, just leave it be” sigh), but since the moment I started reading fantasy, I don’t ever remember caring about the color of the skin characters had. The only exception to that being the Lord of the Rings, where Tolkien’s depiction of the Haradrim was really a clear contrast and did feel completely unbalanced.

Even when I write, I don’t take particular care about my characters’ skin color: I visualize my character. I see them, I feel them. They live inside me. If they wear a white skin, they are white. If they wear a dark brown skin, they are dark brown. If they wear a black skin, they are black. It’s not something conscious. I am not trying to maintain a ratio or a balance, or to push anything like that. To me, characters should be the way they want to be (characters do have a life and a will of their own, as most writers know), not forced into being what they didn’t want to be, or you risk getting an unbalanced work, with characters completely askew.

Still, I was ecstatic when I heard that “Miyazaki” would do the movie. Here was the perfect combination: one of the most wonderful books cycle I had read and one of the best anime film makers there was coming together. Then, when I gathered some information about the coming movie, I did realize that there had been an abysmally bad US mini-series, and that there was a kind of racial pitfall in the adaptation. As explained above, I still fail to understand why people will be so vocal about the issue, that they will push away people who would otherwise support what they say.

Anyway. First, I realized that Miyazaki junior would do the movie. Then, I read about the father – son dispute. I found that extremely sad and a waste. I don’t understand the roots of this, and likely never will—and it’s far better that way. From my understanding of the work’s progress, things went as they often do: quickly, and rather smoothly (of you can ever call the production of an anime movie “smooth”, that is). What hints and bits I could see looked rather nice to me.

Then the movie premiered in Japan. People saw it, and comments started popping up here and there.

Then Ursula Le Guin, who had seen it before its debut, came public with her own review and comment of the movie. So naturally I went to her web site, and read it, dreading what I would find. For all those who haven’t read it yet, it’s here.

Her review leaves me with the following thoughts:

It's a pity Mrs. Le Guin had to stand in the middle of a dispute between father and son. It's even more a pity that Miyazaki Hayao changed his mind on retiring after a decision was made to have his son do the movie.

However, the movie, as I understand it, has received quite a few good reviews in Japan. I, for one, will give it the fair chance it does deserve. As to the Earthsea books, as stated above I loved them when I read them, so many years ago. The details and even the plot are now fuzzy in my memory. So I will take this move and watch it as it is: Miyazaki Goro’s vision of the cycle, and not as a completely faithful shifting of the books to the screen.

Adaptation is a tricky business. Nobody is ever happy with it. If you stick to the work you're adapting too closely (hello, Saint Seiya Hades: Meikai-hen--if you've read my review of those OVAs, you know I do agree that the adaptation was just inexistent), you're cursed for being an incompetent script writer without a single ounce of talent or creativity. If you stray too far, then you're accused of betraying the original work. It seems to me like a doomed job. Even more so, when adaptation is done by someone from a culture very different from yours, and whose view of your work you can't really know--and when the adaptation is done primarily for a people whose culture is deeply different too.

I think, what amazes me the most, is that people would write Mrs Le Guin to ask her questions about the movie. As she rightly says, she's not the movie's author, or the movie's script writer, or the one who did the adaptation. Bothering her with questions is futile, and, if she didn't receive the movie in a favorable light, can only lead to rubbing more salt on the wound.

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