The Religious Right|
September 10, 1998
By Franklin Harris
When James Cameron's "Titanic" opened in Japan, it ran into more than just icebergs. It ran into "Princess Mononoke." The animated feature, directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli, was too busy breaking Japanese box office records to be bothered by a big boat and Leo Whatshisname.
No one could be more pleased by all this than Disney, which normally takes a dim view of any studio other than itself daring to make animated features. Disney has acquired the international distribution rights to nearly all of Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli films.
Miyazaki has already made a splash on this side of the Pacific. His "My Neighbor Totoro," distributed on video by Fox, sold well, thanks to Fox's aggressive advertising, good word of mouth and the praise of critics like Roger Ebert.
Disney's first Miyazaki release is "Kiki's Delivery Service," a heartwarming and beautifully animated tale that touches upon Miyazaki's favorite theme: children growing into responsible adults.
Disney's dub of "Kiki" also features a first-rate cast, with Kirsten Dunst, Janeane Garofolo, Debbie Reynolds and the late Phil Hartman all providing voices.
Thanks to Disney, Japanese animation, or "anime," will have a chance at a mainstream American audience.
While anime has broken into the mainstream before in the form of such series as "Speed Racer," "Starblazers," and "Robotech," it usually has been heavily Americanized. When "Gatchaman" came to America in the late '70s as "Battle of the Planets," it bore only a passing resemblance to the Japanese original.
Most anime available in video stores today is science fiction. And while much of it is excellent ("Macross Plus," "Neon Genesis Evangelion" and the new "Gatchaman"), there isn't much variety.
Disney's entry into anime could change things.
While the possibility of an American anime boom will please fans of quality animation -- and should please fans of quality entertainment in general -- it won't please everyone.
A hysterical press release from The Concerned Women for America denounces "Kiki's Delivery Service."
"The film represents Disney's cautious entry into Japanese animation, which is best known for anime (the risqué and warlike corner of Japanese animation that has become hugely popular in video stores,)" it reads.
The release itself reveals the group's ignorance. Anime isn't a corner of Japanese animation. It is Japanese animation. That some anime is violent and sexually explicit is true, but only because the Japanese view animation as simply one of many storytelling methods. The Japanese make anime that is intended for adults, for children and both. Only Americans hold the silly notion that animation is for children only.
But what worries the Religious Right organization about "Kiki" in particular is the film's sympathetic portrayal of a girl who happens to be a witch, in the fantastic sense of the term: "The Disney Company is still not family friendly, but continues to have a darker agenda."
At the center of "Kiki" is a loving family made up of a respectful daughter and an attentive mother and father. What isn't "family friendly" about that?
What CWA really means isn't that "Kiki" isn't pro family, but that it isn't Christian. It also isn't anti-Christian, for that matter. But for the CWA to expect an artistic work from a largely non-Christian culture to promote Christianity is absurd.
"By importing samples from the vast selections of child-oriented animation from Japan, Disney may well clear shelf space for all kinds of work from Japan," the press release continues.
It's this possible influx of art and ideas from a non-Christian culture that worries the Religious Right-types most. But, as the world gets ever smaller, that influx is something with which they'll just have to live.
Fortunately, the CWA is the far-Right fringe. But attacks on anime may very well increase when Disney brings "Princess Mononoke" to America.
"Mononoke" is one of those violent films that worry the CWA. But, acting sensibly, Disney will be marketing the film to adults and releasing it through its Miramax division rather than through its traditional animation divisions.
If there is an American anime boom, it will be a good thing. We shouldn't allow a small group of busybodies to spoil it for the rest of us.