Japanese cartoons shape American Dreams

Japanese anime is the number one cartoon import in the U.S. The art forms and complex plots have put anime such as “Naruto”, “Full-Metal Alchemist” and “Pokemon” on the primetime-programming block of Cartoon Network and its late night programming block, Adult Swim. Much of this success can be attributed to the director and screenplay writer, Hayao Miyazaki, whose animated films were amongst the first to achieve mainstream attention in the U.S.

American movies and television shows are commonly viewed in other countries, but it is rare for foreign films or shows to become popular in the U.S. “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” are among the few examples of foreign films to make it big in America.

Japan’s anime has been the only type of cinema to make a large cross over into the U.S. Anime is not only popular here, but it’s also the only type of foreign television show or film to be commonly dubbed into English. Unlike simply adding subtitles dubbing requires an entire English-speaking cast, which is only done when there is great interest, and the opportunity for large profits, as Miyazaki’s films have proven to be.

Miyazaki is one of Japan’s most well known directors and screenplay writers. His imaginative story lines, dynamic characters and breathtaking animations have earned him international recognition. His films have received such widespread praise that Disney has made a commitment to introducing them to the rest of the world by dubbing and distributing them.

Through Disney’s support, Miyazaki’s film “Princess Mononoke” was boosted to such a high level of success that it led to the creation of Studio Ghibli. Studio Ghibli is an animation and film studio that was founded by Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, another well known Japanese artist. Studio Ghibli produces mainly Miyazaki’s films, but it has also produced the works of other directors.

“Spirited Away” has by far been Miyazaki’s most successful film. Not only did it win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film in 2003, but it is also ranked as the all-time top grossing film in Japanese box office history, and was the first movie to earn $200 million at the worldwide box office before opening in the U.S.

“Spirited Away” is about a young girl named Chihiro Ogino who, through some mysterious circumstances ends up in a strange new world inhabited by spirits. After her parents are turned into pigs by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro must work in Yubaba’s bath house in the hope of finding a way to change them back and escape back to the human world.

Then in 2004 came Miyazaki’s most recent film “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Usually Miyazaki’s animations are entirely original, but this film is an adaptation of a novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones. Having been so inspired by the morals and underlying storyline of the novel, Miyazaki was dedicated to making it a film. Like some of his other films, “Howl’s Moving Castle” was dubbed by Pixar into English and distributed by Disney.

“Howl’s Moving Castle” tells the story of Sophie, an ordinary girl who after being turned into a 90-year-old woman by the Wicked Witch of the Waste has been thrown into an adventure with the handsome, but strange wizard Howl. It’s a film about love, war and magic. The many dramatic complexities of “Howl’s Moving Castle” are tied together through delicately placed comedy. Although tragedies surround the main characters, Miyazaki maintains a lighthearted whimsy throughout the entire film.

Miyazaki’s 1997 animated film “Princess Mononoke” was the piece that initially pushed him into global fame. “Princess Mononoke” was dubbed into English by their Miramax division, and distributed by Disney to the U.S. in 1999.

“Princess Mononoke” is about a medieval prince who has been cursed by a demon and must now travel through an enchanted forest to the demon’s homeland to remove the curse before it kills him. As one of Miyazaki’s more violent films, “Princess Mononoke” would be suitable for more mature audiences.

Andy Contreras, president of Anime Kurabu, a student organization at UTSA, gave his opinion as to why anime has become so popular in the United States: “One of the reasons why I think that it is really popular over here is because of the art style,” Contreras said. “The art attracts you, at least that’s what got me into anime. It was something different. Anime characters often have extra details and to me, these characters look more human than those in American cartoons.”

The majority of anime fans agree with Contreras in that the artistry draws you in. Some fans would even go further to say that not only do the characters look more realistic, but that appearance-wise the characters do not look race specific which makes it easier for viewers to put themselves into the stories. The art style actually helps to integrate anime fans of any country into the action.

Not only do the characters look better, but they also follow a clear and ongoing story line that gradually builds up your understanding of the characters and their stories: “Most anime have a rich story line that is continuous, whereas most cartoons here in America such as “The Simpsons” follow episodic story lines in which anyone can jump in at any time,” Contreras said. “But what’s special about anime is that its just one continuous story. It keeps going. It moves you because you grow on the characters.”

Next, Contreras commented on something true of nearly all Americans, especially those here in Texas in that we like it big: “Here in America we like to be extravagant,” Contreras said. “We may have one show on American TV with maybe one small robot, but in anime it’s an entire fleet of robots who are giant. Anime is full of drama, and Americans like drama.”

Each of these films can be found on Netflix, or at local video stores.