SUPERVERSIVE: Takahata is Moore, Miyazaki is Miller

Tuesday , 4, July 2017 41 Comments

Image result for watchmenThe other day, after taking the Hogwarts Express to Camp Half-Blood, I took the magic Wardrobe straight through Mirkwood, used the secret tunnel to find the Mole’s home, guarded by Rat, and finally emerged to find myself in the super-secret headquarters of team Superversive.

(Note: I may have left out some key locations on the route, so as not to be hounded by our many screaming fans.)

There we had a discussion about “Watchmen” and the sea change comics underwent in the 80’s. But it didn’t go in the direction you might think.

Two comics are generally used to mark the end of the silver age of comics and the beginning, for better or for worse, of the dark age. Those comics are “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight Returns”, and despite superficial similarities they couldn’t be more different.

“Watchmen” is better illustrated, more philosophically complex, better plotted, and more detailed than “The Dark Knight Returns” – basically superior in every way except, arguably, dialogue (Moore is very good, but Miller at one time was one of the best ever).

“Watchmen” had a bigger effect on the comics industry, certainly. But do you know which writer had a bigger effect on the culture at large?

Frank Miller.

I think this is undeniable. Think of how many people saw the Watchmen movie. Now think of how many people who saw Nolan’s Batman films. “The Dark Knight Returns” is about an aging Bruce Wayne, retired for awhile,who returns in order to help keep control of a city run by criminals.

Sound familiar? It should.

(This is when people will bring up “No Man’s Land”, which they should; there can be more than one influence, after all.)

Every show or movie that had a “darker” take on Batman since the 1980’s, starting with Burton and going all the way up to “Batman vs. Superman” (which even cribbed its main conflict from “The Dark Knight Returns”, and used some dialogue directly), took its cue from “The Dark Knight Returns” and Miller’s later “Batman Year One”.

It’s actually quite easy to see why. “Watchmen” is dank and nihlistic; when you remove all of that brilliant wrapping you’ll realize that deep beneath it all is a core of pure crap, along with the words “Screw You” stuffed inside of a fortune cookie. Moore had contempt for the superhero genre, and attempted with “Watchmen” to destroy it; the book can be appreciated for its genius, but ultimately despite the myriad of philosophical themes it touches on it’s juvenile and insulting. Where do you go from there besides increasingly terrible antihero stories about heroes who smolder with generic rage?

Image result for the dark knight returns“The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” are superversive; “Returns” particularly falls squarely in the decon/recon subgenre. It ends with Batman, having taken control of a city formerly in chaos, moving on to help revitalize the rest of the country. It turned out the world did need Batman, and he is a hero. And that’s what readers want to see. They’re all Batman fans, after all.

And “Returns”, unlike “Watchmen”, is fun. The fights are super cool, it’s full of jokes and humor, and the dialogue is snappy and memorable. “Watchmen” is specifically designed to repulse, not to entertain. It’s not fun at all – good, certainly, but not fun.

And here, in a very limited way, is the comparison between Takahata and Miyazaki. Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies” is considered one of the all-time great anti-war classics, about two children who starve to death in WWII era Japan. It is a beautifully written, impeccably directed, moving masterpiece…supposedly.

I’ve never seen it. I don’t want to see it. I’ve never heard of anybody who has seen it ever having the desire to rewatch it.

Miyazaki is also very anti-war, and he makes these themes clear in everything from “Nausicaa in the Valley of the Wind” to “Howl’s Moving Castle”. And yet, unlike Takahata, I can rewatch all of Miyazaki’s films over and over again.

Why?

Miyazaki is fun. Always. No matter what.

Takahata has another film, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”. It came out in 2013. It has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and each review is absolutely stellar.

Hmmmmm. Ever heard of it?

Probably not. It didn’t do very well in the Japanese box office. In fact, it threatened to contribute to the sinking of Studio Ghibli for awhile, until “When Marnie was Here” was made and Miyazaki came out of retirement again.

Image result for the tale of the princess kaguya

It really is beautifully animated, though

This is because, of course, despite being a beautifully animated work of art, “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is crudely anti-male and dull. It’s not fun. It’s not particularly entertaining. If you’re a guy, you’re basically being poked in the eye every few minutes. Critics love it, but audiences didn’t give it the time of day.

You know what came out the same year? A Miyazaki film called “The Wind Rises”. It was also slow-moving introspective, and sad.  It only has an 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. Unlike “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”, though, it didn’t go out of its way to insult half of its audience, and it was more concerned with being entertaining than being important. Which one would you want to see?

Now, Miyazaki is a far, far better creator than Frank Miller, as much as I adore “Born Again”. And Alan Moore is a better creator than Takahata, as talented as Takahata is (Takahata is pretty good, mind). The comparison isn’t meant to be one to one. It’s just a general observation.

Am I going anywhere with this? Well, not really. Just touching again on a theme: If you want lasting fame and recognition, do your job, and that’s not Saying Something Important or being Critically Acclaimed. It’s pleasing your audience. And it’s the reason that Frank Miller and Hayao Miyazaki are going to achieve the sort of lasting fame that Alan Moore and Isao Takahata, as influential and successful as they were, can only dream of.

41 Comments
  • Xavier Basora says:

    Anthony

    Seems universal no? This contempt for the genre’s the stories and ultimately the audience is not only tiresome but self defeating. People have enough misery and disappointment and they’ll be deemed if the beer money they spent on being entertained is just a continuation of real life disappointment.

    I don’t care about what’s on the entertainers just give us a few moments of respite and enjoyment.
    That’s your only job ’cause it’s very

    xavier

    • keith says:

      “just give us a few moments of respite and enjoyment”
      They cannot, they are the children of their age.

      Pessimism, and the exaltation of pessimism by the intelligentsia, seems to be one of those in-built mechanisms. See the rise of pessimism among the thinkers in the twilight era of Egypt, or the declining Greco-Roman world.

  • It’s what happens when you are focused on the acclaim of the critics, especially the snobbiest, rather than pleasing the general audience.

    “Wyatt Earp,” with Costner and Quaid was the former, and despite its lineup, directing and relative historical accuracy, is all bot forgotten. “Tombstone” was the latter, and is endlessly quoted in pop culture. It’s one of the few movies I rewatch from time to time, just for the fun of it.

    • Anthony says:

      Excuse me for a second to rant briefly.

      I just looked again at the Rotten Tomatoes link to “Kaguya” and found this line from a user review at the bottom of the page:

      “That the title of the original folktale places its importance on the bamboo cutter is symptomatic of those ungrateful times for women like our tragic heroine”

      BUT THAT ISN’T ACTUALLY THE CASE IN THE TALE OF THE BAMBOO CUTTER. In the original story the Bamboo Cutter listens to the Princess and tries to keep the nobility away from her; the Princess has the nobility running around the world, wrapped around her little finger; the Emperor is a besotted pen-pal, far too respectful of her to do anything to her against her will.

      Comments like that are the exact reason “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” is such a harmful film. It’s a lie.

      /End Rant

      • keith says:

        So it is no different from that treatment which we granted to our own fairy tales, myths, romances. Even the reactions are the same, displaying that same willful ignorance of the source material.

        • Anthony M says:

          In one. I think “Kaguya” happens to be a particular problem because the way it is presented makes it clear that it’s trying to portray the past “accurately”.

      • Nathan says:

        Tragic? Kaguyahime?

        I’m not Confuscian, but the love and responsibilities of parents to child and child to parents is a huge part of the story (or at least the version I read). Kaguya won’t marry out of deep love for her adoptive parents, while her parents want her to marry because someone has to take care of her when they are gone.

    • Xavier Basora says:

      David

      I haven’t seen either movie. Was Costner in his Dancing with wolves phase? If so it would explain why thecWhaytvEarp movie was so forgettable

      xavier

      • Andy says:

        It was around then. Lawrence Kasdan wrote and directed it, I believe. Dennis Quaid as Doc Holliday is probably the best performance in either of the two Earp movies but it’s otherwise pretty tepid.

  • Fenris Wulf says:

    I have to quibble with one thing. Watchmen is not better illustrated. Dave Gibbons’ artwork gets the job done, but there’s nothing special about it, aside from occasional flashes of brilliance like the clockwork scene. Frank Miller’s artwork is utterly original, hyper-stylized, and impossible to imitate.

    • Tyr says:

      I could not agree more. I think that the artwork in Watchmen was intentionally uninspiring and bland in order to make everything about the superheroes look as unheroic and absurd as possible.

      Miller’s art in The Dark Knight Returns was fantastic, with numerous panels that stand alone as materpieces of American comic art.

      Also, Graveyard of Fireflies is a wonderful film. It is interesting to note that the anti-war message was read into the film by critics. The author of the semi-autobiographical book upon which it was based denied any such message; instead it was something of an apology to his sister, whose death from malnutrition he blamed on his own pride.

    • Anthony M says:

      Don’t get me wrong, I like Miller’s art, and it’s very stylized, but I think Gibbons’ artwork was more detailed

      That said, I can see the other side of the coin.

  • Vlad James says:

    I have good news for you; “Grave of the Fireflies” is woefully overrated, dishonest, rotten garbage. You have missed out on nothing by skipping it.

    If you took issue with Watchmen’s seemingly pointless nihlism (which I can appreciate, although I thought it was fantastic), you will absolutely despise “Grave of the Fireflies”.

    Although I don’t care for Miyazaki based on what I have seen, either. You mention Takahata making an anti-male film; so did Miyazaki (a proud feminist and Japanese SJW) with “Princess Mononoke”.

    • Anthony M says:

      Oooooooh, fighting words!

      You are right that Miyazaki claimed to be a feminist when asked (though I doubt he understands the intellectual history behind it in the west), and he was a Marxist at least up until the 90’s; I don’t know if he was an SJW for sure, or the Japanese equivalent, but it wouldn’t have remotely surprised me.

      “Mononoke”, however, is not anti-male. You’re the first I’ve ever heard to make that particular claim (if anything, his most feminist film is “Nausicaa”). Eboshi and San are using a C.S. Lewis trick – they can hold their own fighting with the men because both have sacrificed an essential portion of their femininity. Note that Eboshi has no husband and San is too broken to pursue a relationship with Ashitaka.

      As I’m wracking my brains the most anti-male thing specifically I can think of was the former whores making some light fun of their husbands, the hunters, and that seems like a stretch.

      It’s not as if Moro, the female wolf spirit, San, and Lady Eboshi are immune from criticism, or there are no male heroes (Ashitaka).

      “Kaguya” is crude and blunt in its message.

      • Vlad James says:

        Really? That “Princess Mononoke” is virulently feminist, anti-male, and environmentalist (to the point of advocating violence and even murder against those who destroy Nature, even if they must do so to survive) is a very common criticism. I’m equally surprised you’ve never come across it before!

        With the exception of the main male character, all male characters are either

        -Painfully stupid and inept. (Note the male villagers)
        -Evil and/or gruesomely ugly. (The agent for the Lord, his men, etc.)

        Compare that to the female characters, who are all

        -Intelligent, brave, and beautiful.
        -With one exception (Lady Eboshi), morally good.

        • Anthony M says:

          Painfully stupid and inept. (Note the male villagers)

          You mention “Except the main character”, which is a pretty big damn deal, since he’s by far the most heroic person of the whole film. Okkotto (Boar leader) also has a tragic nobility to him.

          Compare that to the female characters, who are all

          -Intelligent, brave, and beautiful.

          San may be brave and beautiful, but she is utterly brainwashed by human-hating forest spirits. Despite all her dealings with Ashitaka she still can’t bring herself to be near the humans.

          And again, you say “With one exception”…but as far as exceptions go, again, it’s a pretty big damn deal.

          • Vlad James says:

            “You mention “Except the main character”, which is a pretty big damn deal,”

            The same (or even greater) exception exists for the most militantly feminist works in the West, from Joss Whedon on down.

            It also bears noting that the main male character has a feminine personality.

            I also disagree that there is much complexity in “Princess Mononoke” or any of Miyazaki’s works.

            He makes very beautiful, charming, well-made children’s movies occasionally loaded with Social Justice themes. One thing they are not is intellectually deep, however. In fact, they’re very shallow.

          • Anthony M says:

            I have more to say, but I’d be here all day.

            All I’ll say is that I don’t think you really understand anything about Miyazaki at all – this is harsh, but as a guy who went through and analyzed his whole body of work, your summary is absurd.

            This isn’t me coming at it from a blind fanboy perspective. I’ve done an in-depth analysis of every movie, and supplementary articles analyzing the way he handles female characters and adaptations from other works. You are wrong.

            Your comments comparing this to SJW movies with Joss Whedon are obviously silly and don’t even make sense. Yes, Joss Whedon makes films with SJW themes with male main characters.

            No, that has nothing to do with this conversation. I responded to a specific point you made; it was flawed.

          • Vlad James says:

            “All I’ll say is that I don’t think you really understand anything about Miyazaki at all – this is harsh, but as a guy who went through and analyzed his whole body of work, your summary is absurd.”

            It’s not “harsh”; it’s merely rude and childish.

            I don’t mind you (or anyone else) disagreeing with my views, but dismissing an argument with “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MIYAZAKI’S GENIUS WHEREAS I AM A HUGE ANIME EXPERT AND KNOW EVERYTHING! YOU KNOW NOTHING AND YOUR ARGUMENT IS ABSURD!” is the kind of juvenile stupidity one expects from a teenager on a message board, not here.

            “This isn’t me coming at it from a blind fanboy perspective.”

            You merely being a blind fanboy would be the most charitable interpretation of your last reply.

            “You are wrong.”

            I’m probably right, if your best counter is the silly ad hominem above.

            “Your comments comparing this to SJW movies with Joss Whedon are obviously silly and don’t even make sense. Yes, Joss Whedon makes films with SJW themes with male main characters.”

            Translation- “Your comparison to Joss Whedon is obviously silly and doesn’t even make sense…even though I admit both Joss Whedon and Miyazaki are feminists and far-leftists, and even though both make films with SJW themes with male main characters!”

            Did you have too much to drink this Independence Day?

          • Anthony says:

            *Shrugs* Look, your “translation” also doesn’t address my response. You made a point, I responded, and then you randomly brought up Whedon. I don’t care what you think of Whedon, as we were talking about Miyazaki. I don’t care that movies with male leads *can* be feminist, I was addressing a particular point you made, an obviously flawed one.

            And yeah, you’re dismissing this guy’s entire body of work withoug understanding it. I’m not taking you to school on him in a combox, I wrote 13 in-depth analyses and supplemental articles on his work. They’re on Superversive SF. You are simply missing an incredible amount. If you want to know why I sound like this, think of it as discussing Burroughs when somebody suddenly says “Of course, his fiction was really juvenile and terribly written, but amusing for children I guess”. There is too much wrrong there to move forward without significant background work. I’ve done that work; see above.

            Feel free to think what you like, but you’re wrong. I appreciate you expressing your thoughts on it but you are not giving him enough – hardly any, really – credit for films, and this one particularly, with immense political, philosophical, and narrative complexity. You don’t see that; fine, but then we bave nothing to discuss.

        • Anthony M says:

          I have heard the environmentalist criticism, many times. It’s an understandable criticism, but still an unfair one. The philosophy of the film is more accurately Shintoist, not environmentalist as the west understands it.

          And the film is nuanced to the point of brilliance. Both sides of the complex have extremely sympathetic and understandable motivations, and Miyazaki makes it clear there are no easy answers.

          In fact, in interviews, he said that was the whole point of the film. It was a response to his own criticisms of “Nausicaa”.

          • Anthony M says:

            (“Complex” should be “conflict”.)

          • PC Bushi says:

            More than nature > civilization, my takeaway has always been that mankind needs to learn to live in harmony with nature. Miyazaki does load his stuff up with environmentalist themes, but that’s not really *that* radical an idea; especially for the Japanese.

          • john silence says:

            Civilisation being viewed as parasitic, or criticism of treatment of nature as this chaos to be overpowered and exploited, is not at all alien thought to a bunch of reactionary thinkers in the last few centuries.

          • Anthony says:

            It’s also not that alien to Tolkien. In any case, Miyazaki’s background assumptions for this film come more from Shintoist than environmentalist thought. His intellectual background is eastern influenced more than western, especially for “Mononoke”.

  • john silence says:

    It’s really pointless, as this mentality is just too entrenched. Every single piece of media that is nihilistic and misery-infused is automatically looked at as more mature, intelligent, important.

  • Man of the Atom says:

    Watchmen was a well-executed book, with a compelling story line in places, but it made clear that Moore had (and has) no understanding of the Superhero character and its purpose.

    Moore in most respects is Anti-Pulp in his works. This is most striking in the Watchmen in the characters Moore seems to detest most. Rorschach and Comedian, are the most memorable for their action vice inaction. One for clinging to honor despite all around him abandoning it, and one for seeing the world “as-is” and responding in kind. While hardly heroes in the conventional sense, these two stand out as most Real amidst a rather two-dimensional group of all the rest.

    Miller understands the Superhero and responds accordingly with Pulp.

  • Andy says:

    Moore’s style in the 80s was to take influences from other genres, especially horror fiction, and inject them into his superhero work, which dazzled the industry because it had fallen into so much stale, formulaic writing but which results in his characters all being neurotic headcases.

    For instance, in his Captain Britain run he did a story in which Cap is so badly shaken by his experience in a horrific alternate reality that he goes full Lovecraft and commits suicide rather than go down fighting.

    He did regret writing Watchmen because he felt that it had a bad influence on superhero comics (what did he expect…?). I recall him saying that he was in a bad mood because he hated Thatcher and he tried to impose on superheroes “an intellectual weight they weren’t designed to hold”.

    • Man of the Atom says:

      Moore was one of the leaders in the leftist move to make Superheroes spout the politics of the creative team.

      Many of Moore’s works make the same mistake, and have influenced American graphic storytelling down into the current Clay Age of Comics.

    • Fenris Wulf says:

      Rorschach is a malicious parody of The Question, created by Steve Ditko, whose philosophy is the diametric opposite of Moore’s. It’s interesting that even in this adulterated form, Rorschach is the most memorable and likeable character in Watchmen.

      • Man of the Atom says:

        Many of the Charlton Heroes were 1960s creations or re-imaginings of Steve Ditko — Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Captain Atom, Question — Pete (P.A.M.) Morisi’s Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, and Peacemaker Joe Gill & Pat Boyette rounded out the group — no Judo Master or Fightin’ Five.

        Dick Giordano brought the characters to DC from Charlton (where he was previously an editor) and rightly recommended that Moore not have free reign of them for Watchmen.

        Ditko and Morisi had sensibilities that freaked out Moore, though Moore apparently respects Ditko’s work at some level.

        DC doesn’t know what to do with the characters beyond that. To paraphrase Mark Evanier (DNAgents, Crossfire), the Big Two complain that everything is “Blue”. A new guy comes along with “Green” and the Big Two go all bugs in favor of it, then do their best to turn it “Blue”.

      • caleb says:

        I was never that much of a comic book reader and, given where I grew up, those comics that I’ve read to some extent mainly came from other corners of Europe (Corto Maltese, Zagor etc).
        I’ve never read the original Watchmen comic, and had no bloody idea about its context. When I watched the movie, Rorschach came off as a tragic hero. And, from what I saw later, he was generally by the most liked character among other folks, regardless of their politics and such.
        So, I was naturally flabbergasted when I discovered how he wasn’t meant to be sympathetic, but was supposed to be this mockery of sort of Randian Republicans.

    • Slim934 says:

      He obviously didn’t outright HATE Pulp. Look at Tom Strong. It is nothing BUT Pulp. And he has claimed that he wrote it to help undo some of the inadvertent damage he did with Watchmen.

      • JD Cowan says:

        I don’t think he hates any of the things he lambastes. He just thinks them inferior to great works of art like the stories of Joyce.

        Personally, I don’t care for any of his work. He is too obsessed with subversion. If not in his storytelling then in his story’s morals. If I can’t trust an author to speak to my face instead of around my back then I simply cannot be engaged by them.

  • Man of the Atom says:

    In Search of Steve Ditko (2007)

    Jonathan Ross tracks the elusive Mr Ditko. Alan Moore is interviewed.

    • Vlad James says:

      Neat, thanks. Jonathan Ross’s appreciate for comics has always impressed me; he had a great interview with Junji Ito.

  • JD Cowan says:

    I had already seen Barefoot Gen, so I never bothered with Grave of the Fireflies. I wonder if there’s much of a difference between them since their central plot and aim are extraordinarily similar.

    As for the worst Ghibli film… that’s probably Pom Poko. Not only is it unable to settle on a tone, its outright distracting character designs pull you right out of it. There’s even a scene where the animals literally turn to the screen and tell the audience outright what the message of the film is.

    Lazy.

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