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.

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