Like the Clouds, Like the Wind
Katsuya Kondou is not a name most anime fans are familiar with. However, as an animation director, key animator, and character designer for Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, he's got a rich resume of work. One of the pieces he's done outside of the studio is Like The Clouds, Like The Wind. A unique, talky film made for television, it works rather well, though those who expect another film of Ghibli quality may wind up a little disappointed.
As the show starts, sometime in the 17th century, the emperor of China has died. His eldest son is crowned quickly to avoid any threats to the throne, and a new harem is culled from the general populace. Ginga, a young provincial girl, thinks that this might be the route to an easy life. Discovered by a courtesan who finds her rough around the edges but with a spark of potential, he takes her to the capital to be trained in royal ways. However, not all is well in the kingdom, as threats from outside lands and traitors within look to unseat the new ruler. Ginga soon learns that becoming a part of the intrigue and danger within the palace is as important as her studies in proper behavior.
I must admit that I watched this show in raw Japanese, and though I understood perhaps 15% of the dialogue, a lot of this went way over my head. Because the show is so dialogue-heavy, I can't say that I understood all the political machinations behind the scenes. However, what easily comes through is the story of a simple girl with no idea of politics coming to terms with what it means to be a part of a king's trusted harem. It's interesting, to be certain, and I was surprised at some surprisingly good action sequences just over halfway in and following near the end. I don't suggest seeing it without translation, but the film is not yet available legally translated in the US.
Meanwhile, those who enjoy Miyazaki's artistic style will feel right at home here. Kondou's characters look very familiar to the wide-eyed heroines Miyazaki designs on a regular basis. The story is also appropriate for elementary age children and above. However, the quality of the actual animation is decent but nothing in comparison to Ghibli's work. It was made for TV, and it looks far better than most TV animation. Still, the budget forces it to be something less than what you'd expect. I was a little surprised that there wasn't more music to help establish the atmosphere, particularly since it was set in a foreign country (even for its original intended audience). Overall, it's not up to Ghibli's high standards, but little animation is.
If you are a fan of Hayao Miyazaki and want to see work of others within his studio, Like The Clouds, Like The Wind is certainly not a bad piece of work if you can find it translated. You'll likely be pleasantly entertained by this unique coming-of-age story wrapped inside a historical lesson.
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind -- violence -- B+