8/23/05

Hayao Miyazaki's "Sherlock Hound" (disc 1)

Saw the first disc of the Sherlock Hound DVD and didn't have to know who directed what to realize that there's a sharp break in quality between the first two episodes and the last three--the characters are more vivid, the animation more detailed and more ambitious, the humor more, well, humorous.

The printing machine in The Little Client, for example, a 'drop forge' as they called it, becomes a ravenous behemoth in Miyazaki's hands; when it goes beserk, it stamps out bizarre shapes like coin necklaces ("this would be nice for mother") or coin jellyfish ("this would be nice in her parlor"). The little girl and her method for observing her cat sleeping at an inaccessible part of the roof not only provides a crucial clue, but is in itself an example of her ingenuity and a lovely bit of characterization (that Miyazaki could present it so quickly and economically and make the whole thing fascinating is itself an achievement).

The Blue Carbuncle starts with an ingenious twist, a thief victimized by a theft; it also features yet another little girl, this one pluckier and more resourceful than the last. Hound shows extraordinary tact in taking the girl on her own terms, not even asking for the hidden jewel (she has to ask him why he doesn't ask). The sandwich she builds for Hound and Watson--piled high with cheeses, meats, lettuce leaves, a celery stick, a slice of lemon and (of course) a maraschino cherry on top--is a marvel of a childhood concoction (you're not sure whether to salivate or gag).

The Abduction of Mrs. Hudson takes a minor character in the Holmes books and turns her into a major one (far as I can recall, Holmes' housekeeper was not nineteen years old, nor was she in any way attractive). It's the quietest of the three episodes in terms of action and animation at the same time it's the most purely delightful; all the comedy and drama of the episode stems from the characters, the way they rub against each other, deal with each other, and ultimately develop affection for each other.

Might as well take a note of some of the changes. Dr. Watson suffers the least transformation; I've always thought there was something of the faithful hound about him, even in Arthur Conan Doyle's fiction. Moriarity I miss the most; the malevolence you felt in the fiction has been turned into the worst kindof melodramatic cliche, complete with villainous laugh. In the 'Mrs. Hudson' episode, however,Miyazaki does get comic mileage out of him, when he reveals the quivering childlike loneliness hidden under the sneering moustache.

Holmes here has admittedly been watered down, his narcissism and arrogance muted, his misogyny uncommented on (though you notice that while everyone else either falls for or worries about the kidnapped Mrs. Hudson, Hound seems strangely nonchalant). In place of these character traits, though, traits that made Doyle's detective so fascinating, Miyazaki substitues a kind of bedrock decency. This Holmes you feel you can trust the family jewels with (it isn't that Doyle's Holmes felt untrustworthy, it's that when you first meet him the impression you get is of a keen and powerful intellect; Hound is likeable, above all--it's later when he starts making deductions that you notice he's actually smart too). Might also add that Hound has a special rapport with kids, particularly girls; Holmes had his Baker Street irregulars, but I remember them being mostly boys, and supposed that their special connection with Holmes was that he was in many ways an overgrown boy himself. Hound acts more like an understanding father--can't help but wonder if he doesn't act like Miyazaki himself.

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