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A Deeply Underrated Film
Note: This review is of the Japanese-language version. I have not seen it in English.

Tales from Earthsea is a beautiful, sweeping fantasy film with believable characters and an intriguing backdrop. It also received nowhere near the accolades it deserved, but I'll get to that later.

Tales from Earthsea has drawn criticism from fans of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea novels, and from LeGuin herself, for straying from the spirit of the books. I've never read any of the Earthsea novels, but I can only assume these complaints are legitimate. However, as an uninitiated viewer, I was engrossed by the movie and fell in love with the world it portrayed. It feels like a living, breathing world, and the story of this movie feels like a single scene on a larger tapestry. There are many more tales from Earthsea to tell, but sadly, I don't think the movie was successful enough to allow it.

I loved the characters. Arren, the sheltered, troubled prince; Sparrowhawk, his worldly mentor; Cob, the wicked, shadowy sorcerer and his bullying minion, Hare. These are stock fantasy characters that we've all seen before, but they're given enough weight and complexity, and played with enough emotion, that they feel like real people.

This was Goro Miyazaki's debut as both a writer and director, and he imbued his worth with beauty, grandeur, and wonder. I'm not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best fantasy films I have ever seen.

And the critics hated it. Japan's Raspberry Awards named it "Worst Movie" of 2006 and Miyazaki "Worst Director". It has less than a 50% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And I may just have an aberrant taste in movies. But I think the main reason Tales from Earthsea failed to win an audience is because Miyazaki is not his father.

(Continued in the comments section)
Goro Miyazaki's father Hayao is to anime as J.R.R. Tolkien is to fantasy literature, and I think his shadow falls on all the directors from Studio Ghibli, but most especially his son. This is not a Hayao Miyazaki film. It is darker and far less sentimental. There is a clear-cut distinction between the heroes and the villains. It doesn't help that all of Ghibli's movies are animated in the same art style - which happens to be Hayao Miyazaki's style of drawing. Tales from Earthsea was doomed from the beginning, simply because everyone's expectations were stacked against it.

Is Tales from Earthsea a masterpiece? I don't think it is. It is slow at times and some plot elements go unexplained (like the plague sweeping Earthsea - is it caused by Cob's meddling with life and death, or is there something deeper at work?). It's not as tightly woven as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but saying it's bad because it's not as good as those movies is like saying Back to the Future is bad because it's not Blade Runner.

I can only hope that Tales from Earthsea is reevaluated in the future and gains more recognition as its own movie. But for now, I can only say that I loved this movie and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys high fantasy.

Just check your expectations at the door.
comment #14229 Filby 8th May 12
I agree completely. i was actually thinking of writing a review with these exact opinions, though i thankfully read yours first.

If nothing else, at least, this movie brought the Earthsea series to my attention, and i've already ordered a few books online. this was a good movie, not perfect, but good. I think that this movie will gain a cult following, at least here in the states, with time, if not only because of the interesting choices for voice actors. They got Willem freaking Dafoe to voice Cob, easily one of the creepiest voices they could've chosen, and all the other voices were either recognizeable or excellent (or both).
comment #14346 cyclopsman 17th May 12
I unexpectedly got the movie for Christmas, and I only heard nothing but mediocre or bad things about the movie. But I suppose I'll take your advice and give it a shot. Who knows, I might come to like it, though being a film student, I'd most likely focus on the balance of story, characters, and cinematography while watching it. I don't expect it to meet my expectations, let alone exceed it, but I can at least say at the end of the movie that I've seen it once.
comment #17406 lilpurplebird 25th Dec 12
comment #18236 yumny 17th Feb 13
This is indeed an extremely underrated movie. It happens to be my favourite Studio Ghibli movie and I think more people should give it a chance.
comment #20314 jet556 26th Jul 13
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