Well, wouldn't ya know it, there's still a few more things I want to enlighten about Horus, Prince of the Sun. Eventually, of course, we'll be moving on to Takahata's more recent works - you know, the ones that you actually own on DVD - but there are still more insights to be gleaned about his storytelling style.
Oh, and just in case you're a new visitor to Conversations on Ghibli, you can download the fansub copy of Horus, which is subtitled in English (that's what a fansub is) and watch it on your computer. I recommend the VLC media player, as that one works the best. Be sure to download and watch the movie so you can get caught back up.
Okay, back to work. Horus remains a deeply compelling movie for me, not only for its technical breakthroughs, not for its innovations, but for all the behind-the-scenes battles waged during its production. The studio, Toei Doga, wanted the latest in a long line of family-friendly animated cartoons, entrenched in the American Disney style. They didn't anticipate a group of young college grads with grand ambitions. They certainly didn't expect something so serious and dark.
So, as I've explained before long ago (note to self: add text link), Isao Takahata and his team were hit with one setback after another. The movie's original title and premise, the setting, the running time. The worst offense was the insertion, at Toei's insistence, of several cartoon characters, in the hopes of appealing to all the little kiddies in the audience. Whatever.
Now here's where I really admire and respect Takahata. This is where the real filmmakers are made, in the trenches and the mud. He is forced to include a cartoon owl and cartoon squirrel into the film. Alright, he conceeds. But here's how we're gonna work it.
Much of movie is devoted to the psychology of the heroine, Hilda. One challenge with animation is how to deal with that psychology. It's easier with a live actor, but how do you convey inner states with pencil drawings? Stuck with a couple lousy extras nobody likes? Let's use them to bring out Hilda's mind.
The owl, Toto, and the squirrel, Chiro, become the Id and Superego of the character. They become the angel and devil on Hilda's shoulder. From this, we can see her inner battles made manifest.
This is something you can notice immediately. Observe how these animals appear. It looks as though they arise from within her. They arrive from behind, or above a tree or swing. They never wander around on their own, or really possess any personality themselves. They serve as the conflicting emotions within the girl.
This, really is a masterstroke, a great jujitsu counter-attack. The owl and squirrel become mysterious, even menacing, jousting for supremacy as Hilda struggles to find herself. The key scene - and I'm not just saying that because it's paused on the portable DVD next to me right now - is the scene in the meadow with Hilda and the small girl, Mauni. This is the best moment where the two sides appear and make their claims. It's all so brilliantly dramatic, and ends with the tragic overtones of death.
Am I the only one who's reminded of the famous Lyndon Johnson campaign ad from 1964, the one with the girl in the field picking flowers? That's the image in my mind as the owl torments the poor squirrel as the child sleeps. It's such a sense of doom. And, of course, there's a lot of wailing and crying. It's Takahata.
Oops. Outta time! Dagnabbit! There are other examples of this throughout Horus. Pay close attention when you watch. See what you can observe. Remember, class, we're dealing in symbols, icons. You are not a squirrel. Class dismissed!