The Little Norse Prince

When I borrowed this DVD, I didn't realise just how old the film is. It's part of the Studio Ghibli Collection, but it was made before the Studio even existed, all the way back in 1968. Miyazaki was an animator, and it's the debut feature by Isao Takahata, who went on to direct the seminal Grave of the Fireflies. While The Little Norse Prince is a kids film, with lots of cute talking animals and songs, some of the social and political concerns of Takahata's later work can be found here in embryonic form. Most notably, the emphasis placed early and often on the importance of the community acting as a single force against external enemies. Grunwald, the sorcerer villain, has wolves, owls and sea-monsters as his servants, and can represent both a manifestation of the malevolence of the natural world and the individualistic domination of it by arrogant humans. He offers eternal life to chosen 'siblings', but this comes at the expense of the humanity held in common with your fellow man. Hilda professes to be alone but not lonely, but becomes bitterly conflicted when observing the wedding rituals of the community. The film even includes a subtle suggestion of sexual frustration and jealousy in the character, when the other women laugh at her because she doesn't know how to use a "needle". Our straight-laced hero Hols doesn't always stick to the script – going off to confront the Big Bad on his own. But these forays are not conclusively successful. Only when he unites the village around him does he prevail against Grunwald. His "Sword of the Sun" is pulled out of a stone – he is a king-in-training who unifies and focuses the general will. The parallel with the constitutional role of the Japanese Emperor is all too apparent.


"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Elevation without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure." - T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night

Herzog's Dracula is interesting for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, he is played by Klaus Kinski, who brings his unique combination of spellbinding charisma and sense of the ridiculous to the role. At one point Herzog has him running across an empty town square at night, revelling in the disease and confusion he has introduced into the community. Herzog also makes Kinski carry his own coffins into his ruined castle (no removal van for him), tip-toeing around like a pantomime villain. But he isn't a safe, fun figure, Kinski's commanding presence shines through the heavy make-up. His first confrontation with Harker is edge-of-the-seat stuff.

This mix is all to Herzog's purpose, as his Dracula is more anti-heroic than the all-powerful fiend in the original novel. Herzog is interested in the toll immortality has exerted. It's a "curse". The Count establishes his belligerence in his first conversation with Harker, empathising with the soul of the wolf hunting his prey. But before he signs the contract for his new house, he talks about no longer enjoying the pleasures of youth: fountains and daylight. Living for countless centuries has made him a shadowy, lonely figure.

The familiar theme of aristocratic corruption is touched on. The vampire in his castle is literally sucking the life blood of the peasant population around him. The struggle between reason and superstition also features. Van Helsing, the man with the plan in Stoker's novel, is a neutered figure in Herzog's film. Rather Lucy, who is the victim in the novel, emerges as the preternaturally aware, self-sacrificing saviour. Lucy, played by the luminous Isabelle Adjani, maintains that human beings act on belief rather than reason. Great deeds are often (terminally) foolish. Crosses and superstitions work as wards against nightly terrors. The Count obviously believes in, and is affected by, them.

Adjani is also the only one able to stand up to Kinski directly, calling out his thirst not for sex and violence but for love, the kind not even a god can destroy. Nosferatu's famous shadow creeps over the family home. He peers through the window like the beggar at Christmas. Adjani ensnares Kinski not by seducing him, but by mothering him. Kinski gives suck like a monstrous baby in his final scene. The lone wolf, the predator, just wants to be human.

However, when Harker is revealed as a vampire at the end of the film, he doesn't heed Dracula's lesson. Instead, he grins at the possibilities living death can provide to experience the world to the full. Dracula himself chose to reside in impossibly inhospitable but awesomely beautiful mountains, learning to appreciate the silence of the natural world. Harker rides out seeking the same supra-human vistas, forgetting that he, in time, will also be reduced to the second childishness that finally ruined Dracula.

Just worth noting that allegations have been made about animal cruelty during the making of this film. None of it is clear from the images in the film itself, but it's something that patrons of Herzog should be aware of. Having seen Aguirre, the Wrath of God and imagining the insanely dangerous shoot it must have been (those horses on those leaky rafts...), I'm not entirely surprised Herzog is less than professional in these matters. The man's a genius, but he deserves censure for that.