April 13th, 2011 / 2:55 am

“enslaved by its structure”

“When you examine most recent novels or screenplays, you can’t help but notice that there’s a very strong goal-motivation-conflict structure. I watched UP with my kids recently (in 3D!) and every single character, even the giant, voiceless bird, had a very clear goal and motivation that conflicted with the other characters’ goals and motivations in really obvious ways. It was actually kind of irritating, because the conflicts just deteriorated into logistics by the climax (one too many people dangling over precipices for me). The movie seemed enslaved by its structure.” — Rhian Ellis, in 2009.

“I find myself thinking of this as a ‘masculine’ storyline, though I’m not particularly eager to defend that characterization; I will say, though, that the primary way girls get to be the heroes of contemporary children’s movies is by proving that they can do the same stupid shit boys can.  Miyazaki, on the other hand, makes movies about intense, often directionless exploration.  He is contemplative, and his films often remain movingly unresolved.  Pixar movies look great, but the visuals are illustrative.  In Miyazaki, the images are the movie.  They make the story.  I can’t, for the life of me, remember the plot of Howl’s Moving Castle–but I will never, never forget the sight of it.  Is this perhaps a feminine ideal–that it is sometimes enough simply to be? In any event, it is a worthwhile ideal, gendered or not.” — J. Robert Lennon, follow-up post, 2011.

“We went through a lot of different options that way. But people just coming out of the theater on screening it here for ourselves, felt like, ‘Whoa, were you leaving it open for a sequel, that Muntz is going to come back and get the bird?’ No, we wanted the sense of closure that when the bird goes off with the babies, we know everything’s going to be fine and there’s no danger.” — Pete Docter, director of UP, 2009.

“. . . I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.” –  Hayao Miyazaki, 2005.


  1. who watches the watchmen?

      don’t have much to add other than if the first act of Up doesn’t make you cry, you’re not human.

  2. Kyle Minor

      I was amazed at that opening passage in UP, where we get almost the entire life of two characters compressed into such a small amount of time. It was a tiny experimental film-within-a-film. Likewise, the opening of WALL-E, with those long silences. I couldn’t believe a major American animation studio was getting away with doing something so formally interesting. In both cases, the rest of the movie didn’t deliver in the same way, but those openings did seem like little gifts.

  3. Mark Folse

      Miyakazi is about making films, in which place is a major character and driver of the story which in my peculiar view is the best sort of story telling (but them I’m obsessed with that idea living in New Orleans where Here is so textured with layers upon archeological excavation layers).

      Pixar and the rest of Hollywood is about making budget and projections.

  4. M. Kitchell

      don’t have much to add other than somebody saying things along the lines of “If [insert specific film/book/whatever here] doesn’t make you [cry, happy, sad, etc], you’re not human” is the most annoying thing in the world

  5. Kyle Minor

      I saw a Paul Newman movie, WUSA, on cable, a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t a great movie, but the first act, which was long on the kind of exposition of place you’re describing, was really beautiful.

  6. Kyle Minor

      Also, along these lines, check out the discarded opening to Good Will Hunting (the parade scene), which you can see on the DVD Bonus Features. (That movie, which does Three-Act mechanics better than almost anything I’ve ever seen, is also exemplary in its use of Boston on these grounds. But that’s a subject for another post, I guess — and maybe we could even twist Ellis’s & Lennon’s arms to talk sometime about the other side of this thing — deployments of conventional-ish formal devices which contribute to the beauty and pleasure of movies and/or books they admire?)

  7. who watches the watchmen?

      well shoot. most? thanks!

  8. who watches the watchmen?

      well shoot. most? thanks!

  9. who watches the watchmen?

      that’s true about the rest of both movies, and is probably the comprise they’re forced to work with: we get to do an awesome premise as long as we promise to deliver on a storybook ending.

  10. who watches the watchmen?

      that’s true about the rest of both movies, and is probably the comprise they’re forced to work with: we get to do an awesome premise as long as we promise to deliver on a storybook ending.

  11. Mark Folse

      WUSA, for its weaknesses, is one of the few pre-Treme films to do a good job of catching what Walker Percy called “the genie soul of a place, without which it is not a place.”

  12. NLY

      In this instance I would say that while there are many feminine elements to a Miyazaki film, it is probably more interesting and accurate to emphasize the cultural distinctions of Japanese ideals. It seems to me Miyazaki’s ideal or project, as it is described here and in other ways, is not alone in the land’s great films, nor is Japanese masculinity itself (a highly interpolated thing) without several of those characteristics.

  13. deadgod

      +[{([insert cliche] is the most annoying thing in the world) is the most annoying thing in the world} is the most annoying thing in the world] is . . . +

  14. Anonymous

      This is great. One of the things I love about Miyazaki movies is that they almost always feature a scene of domestic work and it’s always cathartic and community building (which I guess you could argue is Japanese, given that students and teachers clean their schools everyday): the girl in Howl’s cleaning the castle, Sen cleaning the bathhouse with the others, Kiki cleaning her new apartment, etc (Murakami novels also usually have a “cleaning the house and making sandwiches” chapter, or eight).

      Since this work is domestic, one could call it “feminine,” but I think it’s more interesting in the way that Miyazaki shows it as the moment when the character comes out of their shell and finds their place. I think to Miyazaki, this work isn’t masculine or feminine, but essentially human.

  15. who watches the watchmen?

      what a cliche, commenting on a cliche, is a cliche, for commenting on cliches, unaware of the complexity inherent, in commenting on cliched cliches in a decidely un-cliched way with a side-twist of cliche for ah fuck it.


      [sax solo]

  16. Mark Folse

      I never made the association between that aspect of Miyazaki and Murakami. Thanks for calling it out to me. I think it may be Japanese and am going to ask a few people who I think would know about it. This even seems to inform in part the way the character in the After the Quake story builds bonfires. It is for him a public event as well as a work of art and perhaps both inform his particular care about it.

  17. Ken Baumann

      Traditional, mythical story structure is so pervasively successful at engaging people emotionally and attentively. Studios like Pixar realize this, and embrace it completely.

      I loved Rango because it used that same monomythical structure but smuggled in some great, weird sequences and images that wouldn’t normally exist in a film of such stature.

      Want to make something great? Embrace and fight the power of story simultaneously.

  18. Anonymous
  19. Anonymous