Nether Regions 06.15.10: The Adventure of Horus: Prince of the Sun
Posted by Chad Webb on 06.15.2010
Before Studio Ghibli became a reality, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata worked on this fantasy offering tor Toei Doga Studio. Is this early groundbreaking film worth seeking out?
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
THE LITTLE NORSE PRINCE
Featuring the Voices of: Hisako Okata, Etsuko Ichihara, and Mikijiro Hira Directed By: Isao Takahata Written By: Kazuo Fukazawa Running Time: 83 minutes Release Date: July 21, 1968 Missing Since: 1968 Existing Formats: Nothing in Region 1 - Only Region 2 DVD Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Extremely Rare - Hard to Buy and Watch
First of all, the title is a matter of concern for anyone wishing to look for this on any site or on DVD. The opening credits for "Taiyo no oji: Horosu no daiboken" will read The Adventure of Horus: Prince of the Sun, but the US title is Little Norse Prince, which is close to what appears in Hayao Miyazaki's book Starting Point: 1979 - 1996, something I get royalties for mentioning now, and on the UK DVD. In the book it is Little Norse Prince Valiant and on Wikipedia it shows Hols: Prince of the Sun. So, because I like the genuine title of The Adventure of Horus: Prince of the Sun better, I will continue to use that title (or abbreviations of it), but most sites should have this movie come up as long as you type in one of the titles.
Grunwald dresses only in black, and his sole purpose is eliminating humans.
Walt Disney will always cast a large shadow on the animation industry. Their fairy tale adaptations, fun loving songs, easily digestible themes can be great, but after all these years they are still at the top of the mountain and very little has changed. The strides in American animation have been few and far between. Back in the 1960's, one group of young animators wanted to re-imagine animation and transform the genre into a form of profound and serious filmmaking. Horus is not just a film that predates the creation of Studio Ghibli. It is much more than that. It has been called the first modern anime.
Toei Doga Studio led Japan in the release of animated television shows and movies. The group that was chosen for the project was comprised of Yasuji Mori, Yasuo Otsuka, Yoichi Kotabe, and Hayao Miyazaki. They were led by Isao Takahata, standing at the helm of his first feature. These gentlemen were all quite critical of the material Walt Disney was pumping out, how they failed to nurture their animators, and so forth. The goal was to expand upon what had already been established, and prove to the world what this realm was capable of accomplishing. They wanted to make a grand statement, one that would shake the foundation of animation in general, and it was no easy task.
The relationship between the artists and the producers was not a positive one. The film ran over schedule and eventually took 3 years to complete. Takahata and company had many heated battles with the studio, and sadly, they would lose most of them. Toei preferred another simple-minded, accessible effort with international appeal. This was not a concern for the animators. The story is based on a folktale of the Anui, an aboriginal people that resided in Northern Japan, but the setting was changed to resemble a Scandinavian/Eastern European area during the Iron Age in hopes that wider audiences would be interested. The running time was also cut by 30 minutes, and 2 key scenes were never even animated due to their cost and complex nature.
Horus was written by Kazuo Fukazawa, but was initially a yarn he wrote for a puppet theater drama. We first meet Horus (Voice of Hisako Otaka) wielding his trusty axe on a rope at a pack of vicious wolves. He is temporarily saved by a rock giant named Maug (voice of Tadashi Yokouchi), who seems to suffer from a "thorn" in his shoulder. That thorn turns out to be the Sword of the Sun, and young Horus pulls it out with all his might. Unfortunately the legendary sword is in bad shape, and needs reforged, something Horus does not know how to do. Maug says that when he can reforge it, he will proclaim him "Prince of the Sun". Horus is then summoned home to the side of his dying father (voice of Hisashi Yokomori), who informs him of the history of their people. Horus is asked to save that village against an evil demon by combining their powers.
Once his father dies, Horus sets out for the village with his friend Koro, a bear cub (voice of Yukari Asai). The infamous demon is named Grunwald (voice of Mikijiro Hira), and he is the one who controls the wolves. He has Horus carried by a vulture like bird to the edge of an icy cliff. When Horus refuses to serve Grunwald, he is thrown from the cliff. He falls into the water and drifts downstream to a nearby fishing village. He quickly becomes a hero after he rescues them from an enormous pike monster which threatened both the lives of the people and the amount of food they possessed. It turns out the fish was just one of the many tools of Grunwald, and Horus realizes he must confront and destroy the demon. Before that can happen however, he must deal with the rusty sword, a bizarre girl named Hilda (voice of Etsuko Ichihara), multiple attacks, and winning the trust of the people once and for all.
The Adventure of Horus: Prince of the Sun, while certainly one of the most influential animated films, is not necessarily a masterpiece. Sometimes the line between highly influential and classic can be a blurry one. Horus is just an entertaining piece of family fare that should have been better. I think if Takahata and company had more power, it would have turned out differently. Miyazaki has stated they "were burning with ambition then", so who knows what could have emerged if there weren't so many restraints and requirements. The animators integrated social commentary, deep themes, and complex messages around what is an archetypal good versus evil story at its core. Make no mistake though; this is well worth adding to any library.
Hilda, the strange girl whose agenda is a mystery.
Horus took so long to make that by the time it was finished, Hayao Miyazaki got married, had his first son, and celebrated that son's first birthday. In interviews, Miyazaki is not one that loves looking back at his youth, and that is what this film represents to him. He has stated that he was never acknowledged by anyone from Toei. He also said Horus contains everything that is embarrassing to him. It is also important to note that Miyazaki was given special titles in many of these early jobs. He was an in-between animator at the time, and here was described as "chief animator and concept artist" despite the fact that the title did not technically exist. It seems Horus was a job he fell into gradually. He drew some pictures, showed them Takahata and Yasuo Otsuka, and ended up staying on.
The animation is a bit dated compared to more recent anime, but the grace and flow is still adept and proficient. The artwork has an intensity and vigor that augments the package. And what distinction the characters lack on sight are made up for psychologically. The sequence where Horus battles the gigantic pike monster is glorious and exhilarating. The action is where this film soars. The fact that all those intelligent minds converged for such spectacular moments like that makes you recurrently appreciate the skilled talent. The village is attacked on more than one occasion, by wolves and rats, and each segment is crafted in a way to induce chills. Rapid images are shown instead one constantly running scene. The expressions on the faces of the townspeople convey the horror of the situation with conviction and urgency.
The moral dilemma at the heart of Horus is absorbing and well-layered. Hilda, the enigmatic girl that Horus encounters at another abandoned village, must choose between possibly being destroyed with the villagers who so willingly accepted her, or living eternally through Grunwald, who gives her an amulet of life. Takahata skips past the cliché of limiting Hilda to just a love interest for Horus. That is only fleetingly mentioned, which made the story increasingly engaging. Etsuko Ichihara voices Hilda with the utmost emotion and ambiguity. Hilda is accompanied by a squirrel and an owl, which undoubtedly were incorporated by the insistence of the studio because talking animals obviously helped Disney's profits. Instead of being colorful comic characters, they are extensions of Hilda. The owl urges her to obey Grunwald, while the squirrel pushes for her to be kind and gentle. Hilda's internal torment is riveting, and allows for superb breaks from Horus' heroics.
Hilda is also the source of the songs, another aspect that the studio wanted. Ichihara's voice is actually very moving, and the manner in which she sits or swings slowly while singing is both beautiful and haunting. The problem is, more songs pop up regularly throughout the running time, and as the plot picks up speed towards the end, they are not needed. They keep coming, and it grows a tad excessive. The talking critters and the songs were both built-in as best as they could have been, but one can plainly discern that they are afterthoughts for the animators. Koro the bear is not vital to the script, and is frequently shoved to the side. The same goes for the owl and the squirrel. In one scene while Hilda is toying with a tough decision, the owl and squirrel begin fighting, and continue to do so off screen. The evil wolves (which are mostly silent) are more significant in that Horus is the only person that has seen them. He is searching for something that initially only poses a threat to him.
Maug battles Grunwald's icy mammoth beast.
Takahata and his team were more concerned with addressing the issues of the period. The Vietnam War and socialism weighed immensely on everyone at the time, and that is reflected marvelously in the overall conflict. They touch on many topics, all of which probably could have been stretched out further if time was added. For Takahata, the strength that he would continue to shape and improve upon, expressing the inner depths of the human mind, can be observed fervently in Hilda. Horus is just a boy on a mission, riddled with revenge and more guts than he should have. As for Grunwald, he is the finest sort of villain, one that is not irritating, and does not resort to the predictable mistakes and exploits viewers are used to. He is confident, knows his opponents inside and out, and does not take them for granted. He is persuasive and heinous enough that the fate of certain characters is in question.
Upon its release, The Adventure of Horus: Prince of the Sun was pulled by Toei after only 10 days in theaters. Due to Takahata working as the director of the film and the union committee chief, he was always perceived as a foe of Toei studio. He is a filmmaker that will give you a one of a kind film, but at his own leisurely pace, and in his own vision from start to finish. If any of that is blocked or given hurdles, the rapport will be a definite rocky one with producers. Following Horus, he was never permitted to direct for Toei again. He was promptly demoted, and to this day he is not on good terms with anyone from Toei. He also received the harshest backlash from other animators after leaving the studio. It goes without saying that Takahata and everyone that move on to Studio Ghibli would be vindicated.
The Adventure of Horus: Prince of the Sun would allow for the World Masterpiece Theater shows such as Heidi, Girl of the Alps and Anne of Green Gables. What drew me most to Horus is that it was sweet without being cutesy, and epic instead of just action-packed and disposable. It takes complex themes and valuable subject matter and laces them into a breathtaking adventure that can be loved by all ages. Though it was restrained from truly flourishing to its peak potential, Horus is still an invigorating, tender, and lasting tale that deserves a wider audience, not just because I am a person who loves Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki's contributions to animation, but because it will leave an impact that resonates with everyone.
--I finally got around to trying the Nos energy drink, named after Nitrous Oxide Systems which is used to boost car performance in races and such. Not exactly the bext way to market an energy drink, but it's still around so whatever. It has a natural passion fruit flavor that I'm not particularly a fan of, and even though it has like 343 mg of caffeine, I was unimpressed. I failed to receive any "boost", but then again I drink a lot of caffeine. I probably won't be getting it again.
--I listened to the new self-titled Stone Temple Pilots album, and sadly it was like the last few they released. The band still delivers efforts with a handful of solid tracks, but they fail time and time again to relive the quality and/or success from their first two classic albums Purple and Core. I guess I am happy they are still alive and kicking because they put on a good show, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't slightly disappointed.
--I watched some other movies of course. The first was The Midnight Meat Train, which I thought was bad. No better way to say it. It started off ok, but through stupid character decisions, nonsensical scenes, and a ridiculous ending I stopped caring. I also saw Kalifornia starring Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis, and David Duchovny. It is a Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds) directed film. I enjoyed everything except the conclusion, which was a letdown and made no sense. I would give the latter title a marginal thumbs up since my comments seemed to echo Gene Siskel's.
--This past weekend I attended Skeletor karoake. To hear more about that, tune in to this week's podcast where we will be discussing cowboys and astronauts in preparation for Toy Story 3 and Jonah Hex.
--The slate for Nether Regions from here on out is up in the air. I have plenty of titles to choose from, but time is a factor, so we shall see what I come up with. This will conclude my Ghibli staff run, even though I could continue it for weeks seeing as how so many of their efforts have not seen the light of day in the US.