The natural balance in Earthsea is fading. Sorcerers are losing their powers, crops are failing, cattle are dying, and even dragons are seen fighting each other to the death. In his journey to find the cause of such disaster, Archmage Ged meets Arren, the prince of Enland, who is tortured by the pursuit of an unknown shadow. Their journey takes them through the dangerous and decaying Hort Town where he learns that his old enemy Lord Cob, in his search for eternal life, may be responsible for the very imbalance that is causing Earthsea to destroy itself.
summary by Two-Twenty
Highs: Artwork and characters that reflect the tone of the story perfectly; Therru’s song
Lows: Slow pacing; Not enough is explained; deus ex machina ending.
Tales from Earthsea is like no other Ghibli film before it in both style and tone. Unlike previous Ghibli films that have a European-like setting, the artwork looks Mediterranean. Hort Town is a complex maze of domes and coliseum archways soaked in terra cotta that looks stunning when juxtaposed with the deep blue of the ocean. It’s not just nice to look at either; it adds an extra dimension to the story and characters. Just like Earthsea itself, Hort Town and the people who live there are decaying physically and in hope and integrity. Arren’s intense internal conflict with the imbalance inside himself is a reflection of this world that he lives in; in his heart, he is good, but he can’t help but to succumb to the prevailing darkness (which made for some surprisingly scary scenes). Therru, on the other hand, has a life that’s detached from the world of Earthsea as much as possible, and any intrusion into that world is met with either shyness or blatant aggression. Ged and Tenar, however, are products of the world before the imbalance, and they seem almost out of place: they’re characters past their prime in a world past its prime. It’s this seemingly flawless synergy of artwork, characters and tone that is this film’s true strong-point.
Aurally, music doesn’t play a prominent role; in fact, it’s an unexpectedly quiet film. The theme song ‘Therru’s Song’, however, is haunting and beautiful and it’s used with great effect in one of the best scenes of the movie.
Its biggest flaw is its pacing. It’s not bad, just very slow. Even though I’m a fan of anime that takes it’s time to tell a story, occasionally I was left tapping my foot in frustration. If you’re the type of person who likes their fantasy more whiz-bang, you won’t find it here. Unlike Howl’s Moving Castle, which drew too much from its source material, Tales from Earthsea doesn’t draw enough. Many times I was left wanting more back story and foreshadowing, especially at the end. After re-watching it, I did manage to pick up on a few hints alluding to what happened, but one of the deciding factors in the ending largely felt like a bit of a deus ex machina. Also, if you’re a die-hard fan of Ursula Le Guin’s books, you may be a little disappointed. Based on what I’ve read from The Farthest Shore and from comments she made herself*, it’s a pretty loose adaptation.
When I watch a Ghibli film, I expect a certain high standard of entertainment, and to be honest, while their films are still very good, I haven’t seen that standard met since Whisper of the Heart. While Tales from Earthsea is a flawed film, it is also a good film, and a step in the right direction to achieving that high standard once again. This is an excellent debut for Goro Miyazaki and I look forward to seeing more from him.
*”It is not my book. It is your movie.”