Ghibli Museum Report: Hayao Miyazaki's Latest Film

by Kim Morrissy,

These days, it feels that Hayao Miyazaki is almost as famous for constantly coming out of retirement as he is for the legion of classic films he's directed. On top of working on a new feature film scheduled for 2020, he has also recently worked on the tenth Ghibli short film shown exclusively at the Ghibli Museum: Boro the Caterpillar.

This 14-minute film started showing at the museum from March 21, and I was there to see it on its first day. The museum was way more crowded than usual, probably because so many people were eager to see the film that day. This was a special day for other reasons too; it was the vernal equinox, a public holiday in Japan to celebrate the end of winter, but it actually started snowing that day! Nature can be strange and delightful.

With that thought in mind, I sat down to watch Boro the Caterpillar. The film is a simple affair about a day in the life of the cutest caterpillar you'll ever meet. Most of the story revolved around Boro's quest for food, reminding me a lot of the children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. One of the most distinctive aspects of the film was the sound effects, which were all created by the comedian Tamori using just his vocal chords. Although there were no spoken lines, the selective use of sounds and patches of silence throughout the film enhanced its picture storybook-like feel.

Boro the Caterpillar is all about appreciating the little quirks of nature. According to Miyazaki's commentary on the film, he first came up with Boro when he was a schoolboy, gazing idly at insects and wondering how they lived their lives. He thinks that it's wrong of people to find insects ugly and disgusting. People don't fully realize that they live in a world full of bugs, and that even city and suburban areas are crawling with insect life.

Human characters actually appear in Boro the Caterpillar, not as main characters but as a side show. At one point, Boro ends up stuck to a human girl's back, and she never notices him until the mother gently peels him off and puts him out into the garden. Although I couldn't pinpoint the exact locations used in the film, I could tell that it was set in the city of Koganei in Tokyo because one of the city's distinctively pink community buses appears in the backgrounds. Miyazaki is a citizen of Koganei, making Boro the Caterpillar a story quite literally close to home.

One thing I appreciated about the film is the lengths it goes to capture the world through the perspective of an insect. Insects can perceive every droplet in the air, and to reflect that, the air is filled with tiny objects at any given moment. Boro can even see transparent cubes in the air (according to the compositing director Atsushi Okui, the production team calls it “the jelly in the air”) which is never explained. As much as Boro tries to eat and interact with the jelly, he never really gets anywhere with him, but it also never seems to bother him too much. This all brings to mind childhood memories of exploring the backyard.

Another thing worth noting about the film is that the caterpillars were animated with CG animation. This was never intrusive, and in fact one of the best scenes is when an entire hive of hairy little caterpillars starts chomping on leaves and swaying in the wind. Boro's design may be deceptively simple, but when you see so many caterpillars wriggling around at once in slightly different ways, it makes you appreciate how expressive their body language can be.

And, of course, one of the best reasons to watch Boro the Caterpillar is because of the soothing piano tune by Joe Hisaishi that plays at the end. This was so nostalgic that I found it hard to believe that it's been five years since the last Miyazaki-Hisaishi work. This was no feature length masterpiece, but it's still charming and quaint enough to warrant a watch - and not to mention the Ghibli museum is well worth visiting in its own right. Hopefully, this should tide over fans of the old Ghibli hands as they work on their next feature film.


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