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Miyazakiworld by Susan Napier, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy by Geoff Dyer. Book reviews

September 25, 2018


These are two reviews of affectionate examinations of films. Books looking in the background to the making of films interest me because they make it possible to approach a film with a fresh pair of eyes, viewing it from a different perspective, and picking up on all the nuances I might have previously missed.

Each book has a different focus. The first Miyazakiworld by Susan Napier concerns the films of Hayao Miyazaki and discusses each film in relation to the background behind its creation and final appearance on screen, as well as the significance of particular features or episodes within those films. Broadsword Calling Danny Boy by Geoff Dyer is in the form of a witty, frequently laugh out loud, commentary of the type you normally encounter in a DVD extra.

Book cover of Miyazaki world


Hayao Miyazaki is the animator who brought the world My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away,Howl’s Moving Castle, amongst many other incredible imaginings of narrative and graphic delights.

Miyazakiworld is clearly a labour of love for Susan Napier the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese Studies at Tufts University, so the book comes over as a highly readable celebration rather than tough critique of the filmmaker’s work. Although she does include extracts and noted arguments of academics who have commented on Miyazaki’s approach to his filmmaking and characters.

Miyazaki was a child at the time of the Second World War and although, by comparison to many of his fellow countryman, had a relatively comfortable upbringing, it did not leave him without some psychological impact. His mother’s chronic illness also left an indelible impression on him. All this meant that in many of his films the children become the ones to right the wrongs of the grown-ups.

Although there is background information, this is not a book with an in-depth interview with Miyazaki, but more a way of considering each of his works and picking out the key points in terms of character and plot and giving context to the background events while the films were being made.

Miyazakiworld could have been a scholarly examination of Miyazaki’s work, but is written instead as a highly readable narrative of each film, leaving the more in-depth critique to other scholars who Napier helpfully references, leaving the reader to go down that route if they so wish.

Having read this book I went back into the films and found new things which added more depth and interest to already excellent animation.

Broadsword calling danny boy

Broadsword Calling Danny Boy.

‘Broadsword calling Danny boy’ is a phrase imprinted on anyone who knows the film where Eagles Dare and I defy anyone catching those words not to do so without hearing Richard Burton’s distinctive resonant tones announcing it.

The intro sets the scene (literally) for the kind of read you are in for:

“Do the mountains and the blue Bavarian twilight cause the drum march to rattle into existence – is the music an emanation of the mountains? – or are the peaks and valleys hauled into view by the march of drums? Are these Heideggerian questions, or is it just that the Teutonic opening credits – as red as the background of a Nazi flag – could not be any redder against the mountainous blue of snow-clad mountains and the deep blue sky passing for night?”

This description of scenic majesty is followed with the more intimate exposition of the inside of the Junkers Ju-52 flying covertly into Nazi Germany. We are introduced to the inscrutable expression Clint Eastwood and the anxious one of Burton because according to Dyer he has money worries of the kind that people who aren’t weighted down by vast quantities of cash cannot begin to understand.”

It is these interjections, along with Dyer employing the type of zoom in/zoom out change of focus you normally associate with action films and their cousin the novel, which makes you realise this is not a cheap attempt to cash in on what is considered by many to be one of the greatest war films of all time. Instead it is something which lovingly takes a scene by scene approach, dissecting all its foibles and dwelling on why it is Burton should wish to linger in woodsheds with comely young female agents in the precursor to launching an impossible mission with an equally improbable amount of portable munitions. Like the ‘never empty sack’ in fairy tales.

It’s the kind of book you don’t read in public on account of the outburst of chuckles or sudden choking fits after swallowing food while laughing. When it strays into the arena of the pretentious it does so with a hilarious knowing.

Dyer reveals a broad reading palette, along with the ability worthy of the most adept quilter to blend a patchwork of references with the outrageous Alistair Maclean plot into something to warm a reader by a roaring great fire. So grab your milk and cookies (or a large glass of expensive spirit) to sustain you and curl up with a read which is a sit down and consume in one go. Then switch on the TV and glory in every highlighted detail.

Miyazakiworld was courtesy of Yale University Press, Broadsword Calling Danny Boy was courtesy of Penguin. Both via NetGalley.

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