June 24, 2009

Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea

Posted in Studio Ghibli at 5:44 pm by j128

Tales from Earthsea

Promotional poster for "Gedo Senki: Tales of Earthsea"

Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea is a 2006 Studio Ghibli film directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao Miyazaki’s son, and it is based on the books by Ursula K. Le Guin. Initially, many anime directors had proposed to make a film of Earthsea but the author refused. Hayao Miyazaki himself had been interested to make an anime version before Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In 2003, after receiving an Oscar for Spirited Away, he received an approval from the author after she had seen one of Mr. Miyazaki’s earlier films My Neighbour Totoro. Unfortunately by the time Ursula K. Le Guin had given her approval, he was already directing Howl’s Moving Castle, so on the behalf of Studio Ghibli, Mr. Miyazaki’s son took over the project.

Goro Miyazaki had always been reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps, being more interested in landscaping than anime. However, after producer Toshio Suzuki persuaded the younger Mr. Miyazaki into working at the Ghilbli Museum, he began to be involved in Studio Ghibli and was consequently asked to draw the storyboards for Earthsea and he became director when Mr. Suzuki made his decision.

Mr. Suzuki’s decision caused a rift between the father and son’s relationship, with Hayao Miyazaki stating that he felt that his son was inexperienced with directing a film. Sympathy can be felt for the elder Mr. Miyazaki as the approval to make a film of Earthsea was given to him. During the movie’s premier, the two were seen together, and it seems that now they are mending their relationship.


In the early beginnings of the story, it is explained that the land of Earthsea is deteriorating, some of the early signs of dragons being sighted in the land of men, the dragons are fighting each other, and there is some sort of fever that is taking over the livestock and a small percentage of the human population. Magic is waning as well.

Arren is a seventeen-year-old young man, the King of Earthsea’s son. He is troubled and lives in fear – he is afraid of death. Two female servants mention that Arren is gone and is nowhere to be found to the King but they are silenced by a woman who is supposedly the Queen. She tells the two women that the prince is not a child anymore and can handle himself.

The King goes through a lonely corridor after departing from Wizard Root and a few courtiers, telling them that he is attending to his correspondence. Just as he is about to enter into a room, he thinks he senses something, but shrugs it off – telling himself that he is imagining things. Before he can defend himself, a man emerges from behind a column, brandishing a knife. He rushes in at the King and stabs him before running off with the King’s sword.

The next scene shows a mysterious man wandering a desert-like environment and he sees a pack of wolves giving chase. The man follows them and rescues a young man and his horse (which really looks more similar to a llama). The man’s name is Sparrowhawk who is later revealed to be a wizard, and the young man is Prince Arren, who has run away. Sparrowhawk and Arren travel together to Earthsea’s capital Hort Town, where life is corrupt with craftsmen who have abandoned their trades, slavery, and destitute addicts of a drug called “hazia.” Arren is almost taken by temptation to try the drug before Sparrowhalk intervenes and shows Arren what the drug does – while it figuratively leaves a person living in heaven without fear and sorrow, it leaves the body helpless and its soul is lost.

Arren rescues a girl, who was being chased by soldiers and accused of being a witch. If it had not been for Arren’s “dark side” emerging and attacking the soldiers, the girl would have become a slave. Her name is Therru. Shortly afterwards, Arren wanders through the city, and falls asleep. He dreams a dark dream and is abruptly woken up by the same soldiers. They capture him as a slave. Fortunately, he is rescued again by Sparrowhawk and is freed; the other children are freed as well and a few do escape but most of them are recaptured.

Lord Cob is the antagonist and has opened the door between life and death, causing the deterioration of Earthsea, because he seeks the secret of eternal life. He puts on a search for Sparrowhawk, who is an archmage, and sees Arren as a potential as well.

The duo arrive at Tenar’s small farm, who has been a friend of Sparrowhawk’s for a long time. There Arren also meets Therru, who is a scarred orphan girl. Tenar later tells Arren that Therru’s parents were abusive and did many cruel things to her; they burned her as well, which is why Therru has a scar. At first, Therru avoids Arren due to her fear of his dark side but later warms to him and opens up.

Arren tells Therru that he killed his father and that he is afraid of his dark side, his shadow, and if he stays at Tenar’s any longer it will come back. He leaves but his shadow does catch up with him but before the shadow can take him, Lord Cob appears and takes Arren instead after the boy has fainted.

He takes Arren as his prisoner and tricks him into thinking that they can work together and that Sparrowhawk is really a bad guy who wants to find the secret to eternal life and that he intends to murder Arren. Cob also makes Arren drink some sort of liquid, which turns out to be another form of hazia, and under its influence, Arren tells Cob his True Name: Lebbenan. In Earthsea, one has to protect his True Name carefully and doesn’t just tell it to anybody – he has to use it wisely as well. Now that Cob has Arren’s true name, he can easily control him.

Meanwhile the three soldiers have ambushed Tenar and Therru.They capture Tenar as a replacement for Sparrowhawk, as Cob plans to use her to lure Sparrowhawk to him (and this tactic succeeds). They leave Therru at the farm with her hands tied behind her back to the fence and they tell her to tell the wizard that if he ever wants to see Tenar again, he has to go to Cob.

Tenar arrives at Cob’s fortress, where she also sees Arren, who remains indifferent through the episode. The soldiers escort Tenar to the dungeons. Meanwhile, Therru has managed to free herself and tells Sparrowhawk what Cob did. Before he leaves, Sparrowhawk gives Therru Arren’s sword, telling her that he needs it and to stay home.

Sparrowhawk reaches Cob’s fortress, escaping the laid out trap, and gets inside where he meets Cob and Arren, under Cob’s influence, almost kills Sparrowhawk using the same move that killed his father but Sparrowhawk evades the move. He tells Arren that life without death is not life and that to refuse death is to refuse life. Everyone and everything doesn’t live forever in this world but it is mankind alone who has been given the gift of knowledge that we must die. Hardly has Sparrowhawk almost finished telling Arren this when he is caught and taken to the dungeons and literally thrown in the same cell as Tenar.

While this has been happening, Therru has been trying to find Arren to give back his sword. She meets Arren’s shadow on the way and it guides her to Cob. It tells her that she must go alone because he cannot enter the fortress – not out of fear but because he is prohibited. Before the shadow dissolves, it tells Therru Arren’s True Name.

Therru maneuvers her way through the fortress without being detected and finds Arren in his room in a miserable, hopeless state. She tells him that Sparrowhawk and Tenar are going to be killed and that they must do something. Arren doesn’t move – he doesn’t see the point of saving them when they’re going to die anyway. Therru tells Arren the reason why life is so precious is because there is death and that is why it is treasured and that is also why it should be lived to its fullest. Arren is still unconvinced and Therru asks Arren again, to help rescue Sparrowhawk and Tenar, uttering his True Name.

Arren is surprised and asks how she know his name. She tells him that he told her and now she will tell him her True Name: it is Tehanu. They unite and reach where Sparrowhawk is about to be pushed into the sea by Tenar, who was forced to commit the action; Arren and Therru appear and Arren attacks the soldiers. Cob is surprised – he can no longer control Arren. Instead, he attempts to use magic to kill Arren, and he resists and Cob realizes for the first time that Arren’s father’s sword was forged with magic. Arren rushes at Cob and chops off his hand that held his staff.

Cob transforms, revealing he is really an old man, and his hand is fused back. He grabs Therru and a chase begins between Arren and Cob. No matter what Cob does with his magic, Arren overcomes it, and after Therru apparently dies at the hand of Cob, she seems to be resurrected by some mysterious way, and together she and Arren ultimately defeat Cob.

During the process of defeating Cob, Therru transformed into a dragon, and Arren rides her back, flying away from Cob’s fortress. Therru transforms back into a girl and Arren tells her that he’ll go back and make up for his crime and that he’ll see her again sometime. They are greeted by Sparrowhawk and Tenar and the final scenes show the four of them living happily, doing farm-work, and enjoying each other’s company before Sparrowhawk and Arren depart.


The film’s reaction was relatively good in Japanese theatres, reaching up to 900, 000 yen and was No. 1, next to Pirates of Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest until it was pushed out by the third X-Men movie. Regarding Ursula K. Le Guin’s reaction to the film, she was disappointed as it wasn’t the same and many things had been changed such as the characters and plot, but she did commend the animation and landscapes. She was also disappointed that Hayao Miyazki hadn’t been able to do it due to the circumstances (she said that once she had seen the elder Mr. Miyazaki’s works she firmly believed that if anyone was allowed to do an Earthsea movie it should be him) but she congratulated Goro Miyazaki and stated that it wasn’t her movie, it was his and at that, a good one. (Somewhat similar in a way to Dianne Wynne Jones’ response to the film Howl’s Moving Castle, though there wasn’t as much of a drastic change (in a way) as in Earthsea.) Her son, Theodore Le Guin, saw it as well and said that it was breathtakingly beautiful – especially the landscapes and Therru’s song: it wasn’t at all Hollywood, he said, it was definately Ghilbi.

As well as the positive reaction, there was also some negativity as there are many loose ends in the film. Unlike stories with open ends, which lets the reader/viewer contemplate the possibilities of what could happen with the characters, etc., Earthsea has unanswered questions that can leave the viewer confused, such as why Arren killed his father, why Therru transformed into a dragon, etc. Especially noted is the film’s apparent lack of pace and plot: it just seems to meander with events that seem to have no connection due to the fact that they are not explained. This does not mean it is a bad movie, it is just – in a way – juvenile. However, many agree that it is a fabulous film in regards to the animation and that it is a relatively good start for Hayao Miyazaki’s son….that is, if he wishes to continue in the world of animation and film.


  • The man who offered Arren the hazia looks strikingly similar to Jigo from Princess Mononoke.
  • Many times throughout the film Arren looks like Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke.


The DVD is available in Britain, being released this summer, on Region 2 DVD.

In Australia, the film premiered in Brisbane and will come to DVD either in late 2007 or early 2008. See the Answers.com article for more details (see below).

It is currently unavailable in North America, due to Science Fiction Channel’s miniseries Legends of Earthsea, and thus they hold the rights to it, which aren’t due to expire anytime soon – no earlier than 2009. So expect Tales from Earthsea to come out on DVD somewhere in that timeline, until then…but for those who are impatient to see it and don’t live in Japan, Britian, or Australia here’s a treat: it’s available on YouTube! Anybody can watch the whole film in parts, totalling eleven parts, and they are about ten to eleven minutes in length, except for the last part that is about seven or eight minutes long. It is spoken in Japanese with English subtitles. To enjoy the show, search Tales from Earthsea in the YouTube search engine or click on the link below.

Gedo Senki Trailer (Japanese with subtitles)


Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea – Answers.com

Studio Ghibli’s Earthsea summary @ Ursula K. Le Guin’s official website

Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea (YouTube) – First part of Tales from Earthsea, spoken in Japanese, English subtitles. You can find the subsequent parts on the sidebar and the slideshow that appears at the end of the clip. The whole movie totals approximately 115 minutes (almost 2 hours).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: