Posts Tagged ‘Miyazaki’

Yesterday I took a day trip to Durham, primarily to attend a seminar run by the Inventions of the Text series in the English Department [ a department I was attached to, with the History department, for BA]. I saw BioShock and games narrative mentioned one of the papers and we’ll, what’s an academic nerd girl going to do but turn up?

The talk wasn’t until 5.30pm so I took the opportunity to explore an exhibition at Palace Green library which I’d wanted to see since I’d heard it announced in November 2013. Let me set the scene, palace green is the grassy area on the Durham peninsula hill, between the old castle [now a college] and the cathedral. It’s a place steeped in history and so the perfect location for an exhibition on… wait for it… Robots!

Yes, you read that correctly, in a departure from their last exhibition on the historic Lindisfarne Gospels, the library traveled the other direction in time for inspiration to the imagined future of robotics. It is a little exhibition but one that is well thought out and jam packed with a variety of robots from the utopian to the dystopian. There are the familiar friendly faces in life size models of C3PO, R2D2, Kryten and Ironman, to the more dubious Borg [a Picard Borg model] Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet and a T-800 head.

The informational text panels are in a delightful computer style font, some in the green of older computer screens – a colour used to great effect in The Matrix. Attention is given to difference between Robots, Cyborgs and Androids, and to some very early examples of clockwork men, a sketch by Charles Dickens as ‘Boz’ being one of those examples.

I’d definitely recommend a visit if you are around Durham before the exhibition closes on 27th April.
With some more time to kill in the afternoon I took the long walk up the hill, past the science site of the university to the Oriental Museum [yes, not the most culturally sensitive name]. It should have been a pleasant walk but the heavens opened and pelted me with hail for most of the twenty minutes that I marched up hill.

The museum covers objects from China, Korea, Japan, Ancient Egypt, the Islamic world and South East Asia. Despite the list of cultures it is again a small museum, established in 1960, it was designed to allow students of oriental languages access to materials from the cultures which shaped the development of those languages.

Articulated snake, photo by me

Articulated snake, photo by me

One of the objects that caught my eye was this articulated snake, made in Japan in the nineteenth century.Last year I adapted Sherlock Holmes and The Speckled Band for a site specific theatre production at The Treasurer’s House in York for Theatre Mill. Now anyone familiar with the story will know why this item caught my attention – a replacement prop, perhaps, for the next time the play rolls out.

The museum has a real mix of different objects, both old and really modern – in the Japanese section there is a clothing cabinet which houses a beautifully intricate wedding kimono, covered in cranes and cherry blossom, next to a similarly intricate cosplay costume for a character from a recent anime/manga phenomenon Black Butler [Kuroshitsuji]

They also currently have a exhibition of modern Japanese Prints, mainly woodblocks, which I’ll admit I have a soft spot for. After the visit I have another couple of names to add to my list of artists whose work I like. There’s the otherworldly, geometric precision of Shiomi Nana whose use of the contrast between red, cream and black is strikingly beautiful.

On the more nostalgic end of the scale there’s  the work of Ohtsu Kazuyuki which depicts Japanese landscapes with emotional tenderness, invoking traditional past and giving the viewer a snap shot into a memory of Japan.

Clear Autumn Day by Ohtsu Kazuyuki

Clear Autumn Day by Ohtsu Kazuyuki

The colours in A Clear Autumn Day, along with the perspective and style, made me think of the worlds created in Miyazaki’s movies, there’s something of the artist’s house in Kiki’s Delivery Service here, isn’t there?


Again, if you can bare the walk, the Oriental Museum is a nice distraction for an hour and you never know, you might be inspired.

Read the next post for my thoughts on the two talks given at the seminar…

“You just complicate the narrative!” Computer games as ‚Erzählspiele’ (narrative games).
‘You seen The Godfather?’ – The Sopranos and the postmodern gangster.


Museum Info:

Robot – Exhibition                                                                   Oriental Museum

Palace Green Library,                                                               Elvet Hill, Durham

Palace Green, Durham,                                                            DH1 3TH                                                    

DH1 3RN 




In part one I set up the reason for my visit to the Kubrick Archive and highlighted one of the first drafts of the A.I: Artificial Intelligence script which Ian Watson wrote. In part two I discover just how many permutations of the story Ian Watson did… Short answer: a ludicrous number.

Filled with a delicious lunch from the Japan Centre, including a matcha green tea [a real energy boost] I descended once more into the archives to try and make some more sense of the process through which the film A.I: Artificial Intelligence was created.

For my second day trip to the archive I placed the boxes of materials in as close to chronological order as possible and picked out the earliest box. Most of the materials, which were not in order, [why would anyone want to make my life easier] were from drafts in 1990.

Through reading a series of faxes I began to see how the writing relationship between Ian Watson and Stanley Kubrick worked. It seems that almost every day Watson would fax a new iteration of a section to Kubrick, which would be read, notes made and faxed back with ideas for changes and edits.  As a writer the very idea of working like this made me want to collapse with exhaustion. I’ve had experiences of turning out very quick re-drafts of treatments but nothing on this scale—I think this went on for about eight months.

Ian Watson has a fantastic article on his own website about his time on A.I. which gives more of a sense of the pressures and inventive freedom of working with Kubrick which can be found here.

What continued to surprise and delight me as I read through the numerous iterations of A.I. was the sheer inventiveness of Watson. There are some thoroughly wonderful visual and thematic ideas that just never made it near the end film—ideas that I would love to turn into movies in their own rights.

There are robot oracles stuck in abandoned reactors, where the area around has turned into a crystal encrusted tomb; Rouge city as noir a gangster controlled nightmare Las Vegas with dark secret revolving on eternal life; there are robot cults of various types who worship or sacrifice David, our little robot boy. The crystalline imagery does make it to the final film as the Blue Fairy statue frozen in ice after many centuries have passed.

Any of these ideas sound more interesting than the final film? Yep, that’s what I thought. Although at the same time I see how much of a risk they would have been to film; robot popes, I’m imagining, have always been a hard sell. Then there is always the question of audience, it seemed that Kubrick initially wanted this to be a general audience film that the whole family could see… it is clear that some of these darker, sordid drafts didn’t conform to this image. Nor did the final movie which got awarded a 12 certificate in the UK or PG-13 in the USA.

Another fascinating element that emerged from trawling through these different drafts is how Watson would get attached to a motif which would appear in various versions, each time slightly changed, to fit the new agenda. I’ve found I have a tendency to do the same thing when I’m writing. I get attached to an image or a concept which doesn’t work, I cut it out and then when another story comes along I try to mold my cut motif into the new story.

Bell Tower at Reschensee - Image fro

Bell Tower at Reschensee – Image fro

I’ve been trying to get the town under the man-made lake at Reschensee into a screenplay for about four years now. The location has been in my mind far longer, from tales my grandparents told of this underwater town and others like it. At one time or other this place has featured in three projects, from which it has been cut each time because, although it is beautiful/ haunting/ making a statement of man vs nature, it has never been quite right. I’ve always felt that I’ve been shoe horning it in somehow. One day, Reschensee you will be the location for a touching romantic moment or more likely, a stirring action sequence. I did see a Miyazaki, The Castle of Cagliostro, which has a similar location in after I wanted to write about this place, so at least someone has managed to make the image work.

With Watson it is a different image, a pit that bores deep into the ground that repeats. It is a source of eternal torment and punishment a la Dante’s Inferno, or a mysterious location which could great immortality. See how the image modulates in the different iterations, same location, very different purpose.

It’s the same with characters. Often as I start a new story my gut tells me I need a character in a particular moment to move the plot along, but that character might be drastically changed by the time the drafting process is over. The same thing happens in Watson’s drafts for A.I. The boy robot, David, and his friend Gigolo Joe need a sympathetic helping hand to push them on the quest, that much is clear, but who that character is alters dramatically from journalists to recluses.

There was so much potential in that tiny box, only a fraction of the creative output that went into the movie. To a lover of science fiction, Watson’s drafts are a real demonstration of the power of an imagination to generate different variations under pressure of tight deadlines. I’m the kind of writer who also functions best, sometimes, when the deadline looms like the blade of a guillotine.

Whether this brief trip to the archive was completely useful to my own research is up for debate. There was one very noir version which I would love to find in its entirety to read, and perhaps there is a conversation to be had with Ian Watson about it in the future, and I would love to know which anime he recommended to Stanley Kubrick.

However, visit has inspired a desire to read multiple drafts of the film scripts from my core texts: Blade Runner, Gattaca, Dark City, The Matrix to see how they developed into the final films. Perhaps there are gems in these drafts that, due to various elements of economics or risk, never made it to the final product.

As a screenwriter it has made me think about early drafts and that perhaps I need to be more inventive, maybe I need to go that extra step outside the box and be more experimental in the early story stage. Because even at my strangest, I have nothing on some of the things I’ve read in the Kubrick Archive.

To finish here’s the theatrical trailer for A.I.

Location: University Archives and Special Collections Centre
London College of Communication
Elephant and Castle


Here is part two of the blog series where I take a look at creative adaptation through showcasing some anime adaptations of western books. In the first post of the series I explained a little of my love for anime and then analysed Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo.

This time I’m looking at one of the most well known anime adaptation of a western book, Howl’s Moving Castle [2004] directed by Hayao Miyazaki based on the book of the same title by Dianne Wynne Jones [written in 1986]. I’m tackling this next because a) this is the adaptation that got me thinking about this little series and b) I have just finished reading the book, kindly lent to me by the person who also sparked the idea for examining anime adaptations.

English version of the trailer

Howl’s Moving Castle follows the story of Sophie Hatter, aged 18 until she falls foul of The Witch of the Waste who places a curse on her, aging Sophie to around 90. Unable to stay at home, Sophie sets out to find a way to break the curse and finds herself  pretending to be a cleaning lady in the Moving Castle owned by Wizard Howl, a selfish character who eats woman’s hearts, apparently. Soon Sophie is involved in breaking more curses than just her own.

Poster for Howl's Moving Castle

Poster for Howl’s Moving Castle

Doesn’t that image fill you with a sense of charmed whimsy? Of course it does. Miyazaki’s visuals for this film capture the spirit of Jones’ novel perfectly as does the swirling score by usual Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisashi. [My favourite tracks on the OST have to be Flower Garden and The Boy Who Drank Stars.] The attention to detail that Miyazaki demonstrates in all of his films, the idyllic country imagery and panache for animating magical worlds really brings the flavour of Wynne Jones’ writing to life.

Howl's Moving Castle Poster

Howl’s Moving Castle Poster

And that is the secret of a successful adaptation in my mind, not to mention the thing you will be told over and over by teachers of screenwriting. Capturing the essence of the book is the trick. It is nigh on impossible to get the visuals to match the varied pictures the readers will create in their heads, but if you can convey the feeling the book creates for the reader than a good sixty percent of the battle is won in the adaptation. Of course there will be people who disagree with this, after all, the creative medium is a subjective one. No right or wrong answers here, only opinions and debate – and box office sales figures if you are cynical.

Unlike the last example of book to anime adaptation, Howl’s Moving Castle is a feature film which means it has a much shorter time to tell the story than the 24 episodes of Gankutsuou. It’s only natural then that characters and subplots are cut and moments modified to tell a coherent story. Gankutsuou’s strength came from having the breathing space to explore all the convoluted elements of The Count of Monte Cristo, Howl’s Moving Castle on the other hand like most filmic adaptations had to pick and chose what stayed and what went, which drawing out new themes that were relevant to the audience watching in 2004.

Brief warning that from here on be spoilers

Thematically, Miyazaki has drawn out one of the less mentioned, but still present, ideas of impending war in the book to become a major motif. It is a motivator for Howl’s actions and a way for Miyazaki to explore his own anti-war feelings around the period where American, British and European troops were involved in the contentious period of the war on terrorism, in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was not until very recently that I found out there were also Japanese troops in those regions so it is little wonder that Miyazaki who has such a strong anti-war feeling in many of his movies [starting as early as Nausicaa and The Valley of the Wind] should pull this element out.

Bombing raid

Bombing raid

War makes monsters of us all, despite good or bad intentions the film seems to say by literally transforming the court wizards into horrific flying creatures loaded in bomb bays of mega airships. [Airships, another Miyazaki visual motif and fascination that places his stamp not Wynne Jones’ on the adaptation.]

Howl loses control in action

Howl loses control in action

From a plot point of view this changes some of the motivations of the characters. Howl is running away from war and his old tutor Wizard Suliman, who is a character hybrid from the book, as she wants him to fight. The presence of warships at Porthaven replaces the fantastic magical battle between Howl and the Witch of Waste, which loses something.

But the Witch of the Waste [pictured below] gets the usual Miyazaki villain treatment; she is no longer purely evil. She is another woman who fell in love with Howl and was scorned seeking revenge, so far, so like the novel, but then she is reduced to her own old age and inducted into the gang who live in the moving castle. She becomes a lonely old lady searching for comfort and companionship and is thus redeemed through the film.

Witch of the Waste - image from

Witch of the Waste – image from

Other characters are changed and merged to deal with the tighter scale of a film. Sophie remains true to the novel’s protagonist, but she loses a sister, Martha, and a little of her complex about failing because she is the Eldest. However, her charm, resilience and determination still captures the heart of all around her, including many inanimate objects like the bewitched prince scarecrow. [One of the more abrupt reveals at the end of the movie which loses from the missing prince not being overtly introduced earlier in the film.]

Calcifer too remains very true to the sarcastic fire demon in the book, despite his visualisation being quite different.

Calcifer - image taken from

Calcifer – image taken from

“A thin blue face… very long with and thin, with a thin blue nose… curly green flames on top are  definitely your hair… purple flames near the bottom make your mouth… curiously enough the only orange flames were under the green eyebrow flames.” [Wynne Jones p.47]

Wizard Suliman has one of the greatest transformations.

Madame Suliman - a character merger of Wizard Suliman and Mrs. Pentstemmon

Madame Suliman – a character merger of Wizard Suliman and Mrs. Pentstemmon

No longer is he another visitor from our ordinary world Wales, turned magician, and come to think of it he’s no longer even male, Madame Suliman is a merger of Howl’s tutor the formidable Mrs. Pentstemmon and Ben Sullivan/Wizard Suliman the royal wizard. As the Wales-as-Howl’s-native-birthplace subplot is gone—replaced with a lonely childhood of study to make his and Sophie’s lonely upbringings relatable and provide a beautiful set piece of the flower garden on the edge of the wastes/marshes where star demons fall—it seems a natural and sensible merger of character. It does not detract from the plot for those who do not know the novel, and it is understandable for those who do know the original.

In losing the youngest sister, who was Michael’s love interest, Michael now Markl, can also become a younger character; someone Sophie can look after and who can add youthful energy to the story, and still seem ridiculous as he attempts some sense of authority. The character of the dog remains but is no longer part of the Suliman/Prince Justin hybrid the Witch of the Waste was building as her ideal man.

Sophie cleaning

Sophie cleaning

Finally I just want to draw attention to the fact that Miyazaki manages to bring in flavours of Japan to the adaptation. Sophie, when cleaning, ties her dress to keep it out of the way which is a blur of Japanese and Western styles, reminiscent of the way the characters in Spirited Away tie their uniforms out of the way to clean.

I guess this blurring of East and West sums up the magical animated worlds of most of Miyazaki’s creations. There is so much more to write but this post is already very long so, to end, here is the Japanese trailer for the movie which has a bit of a different tone to the English one.