He sent me the link, in my answer I changed the subject line to I Told You So, and lots of agreeing with each other ensued. LeGuin has shared her thoughts on the situation at her site:
I had a pleasant correspondence with Mr Toshio Suzuki of Studio Ghibli. In our correspondence, I urged the unwisdom of radical changes to the story or the characters, since the books are so well known to so many readers, in Japan as elsewhere. In order to have the freedom of imagination he ought to have in making his film, I suggested that Mr Miyazaki might use the period of ten or fifteen years between the first two books: we don't know what Ged was doing in those years, aside from becoming Archmage, and Mr Miyazaki could have him doing anything he liked. (There is no other film maker to whom I would make such a proposition.)
Wow o wow. She gave him license to roll with it? Talk about generous. And yet, what did these filmmakers do? Guess!
Both the American and the Japanese film-makers treated these books as mines for names and a few concepts, taking bits and pieces out of context, and replacing the story/ies with an entirely different plot, lacking in coherence and consistency. I wonder at the disrespect shown not only to the books but to their readers.
I don't want to cut/paste any more as you really should read the whole thing. Once again they didn't get the big picture. On top of that, where the Hollywood people cut her out of the process for the SciFi Channel adaptation, the Ghibli people flat out lied to her. They tell her H. Miyazaki is off on retirement, so his son G. Miyazaki is going to take over. Except what emerges later is by "retirement" the Ghibli people mean H. Miyazaki gonna make somebody else's movie instead. Geez. That's just vile.
She talks about the race angle toward the bottom of the essay, something I KNEW they were going to completely avoid when I saw the first poster online. A different friend shared a thought that one should be grateful that they did, considering the history of anime and manga when it comes to portrayal of browns:
- A movie where one member of the girl's school inner-circle was a huge, bestial creature with picaninny hair and thick lips who was used as manual labor by the others. I'm pretty sure this one was from Project A-Ko, one of the first uncut anime films I ever saw that wasn't Starblazers, Transformers or Speed Racer.
- One series, this one focused on a boy, had a male black supporting character who looked and behaved like a gibbering monkey.
- There was a video game-type series with a servant drawn from the "darky" tradition. He was a jet black jigaboo with bright red balloon lips, a turban, and he used a flying carpet. He also had pointy ears. I'm guessing he was supposed to be from India, but he had weirdly mixed coding.
- There was one supposedly set in Chicago (that one was a manga, not an anime though) about two girls with guns and one of them was supposed to be black. Besides being the whitest Chicago I'd ever seen in my life, it was also a Chicago comprised mostly of warehouses and roads.
- One of those Pokemons was a black faced, pink-lipped Jolson monstrosity who's power was based on sexual assault (kissing people) and and who spoke a language none of the humans nor the monsters could understand. Only other of this thing could communicate with it. Ooo! And it danced. There was something about it dancing...it's been a while, but I'm sure dancing was part of its character/power. Unbelievable.
- There was another one set in a girl's school where there was an African member of the group. Her uniform was tattered, she physically looked like a wild, feral creature and she acted like an animal. Mentally, she was stupider than the other girls.
- There was a black fighter in one of the robot fighter shows. Yeah...that's helpful.. They flew jets, mostly, and were in some sort of eternal combat?
Anywho, that's all I can remember top of head. Like others, I've heard that the original versions of a lot of contain ethnic stereotyping that's even worse, along the lines of the uncensored versions of "Our Gang. But the thing is Our Gang is from the 30s. All these were from the 80s and 90s. But they don't do that anymore! some will howl. Yeah? A lot of these are still in circulation. And just because they strip the touchy bits for the American market doesn't mean they're not letting the full versions go for the international markets. Which, in case you don't know, they ARE.
I remember when a Japanese car company opened a plant near my college. They brought over a team of executives to launch the operation, and their children started showing up in town wearing T-shirts with an advertisement for a brand of toothpaste over there where the image was of a darky in a top hat. It's amazing they didn't get beat within an inch of their lives, immediately, and several times. (I understand that many meetings were held.) I am also aware of stuff like this and this (islands populated with primitive jigaboos pop up in Japanese rubber suit monster movies all the freakin time..picked this one at random because I remember it at the moment; could have picked from many, many, more) and this (that one's coming out in the fall...and "truly innocent in development" my ass) and this (which is described as "the best blackface band in Japan," which implies there are MORE of them over there, enough for one to be designated "the best" as opposed to "the only.")
So, yeah. Not sure if "grateful" is the word I'd use, but my buddy has a point, there.
Is it possible that the Ghibli version of Earthsea is coded for that culture's perception, and we who are not Japanese or steeped in all things Japanese cannot pick it up? I don't buy it. That explainer is betrayed by the very pages of the manga and anime produced: if their handling of the Other is soooo very subtle only insiders can pick it up, why are there so many jigaboos and darkies and feral sub-humans walking around soooo much anime and manga?
(I remember being told back then that the monkey boy character wasn't supposed to be "black" as I was thinking. He was supposed to be Korean. As if that makes it okay?!)
So, could Studio Ghibli's adaptation of Earthsea have been worse? Probably. Does it matter that it wasn't blatantly stereotyped? Not to me. I'm not grateful. I see another instance of whitewashing, not too dissimilar from what Halmi did. Both teams missed the big picture message(s) in that work; both teams dodged the racial aspect; both teams treated Ursula K. LeGuin shabbily; and both teams raided the work for what they wanted, caring not one bit about what it is.
It's too bad that LeGuin's landmark work was once again adapted with such disrespect.