Unusual Japanese animated tale of eccentric inventor and Chinese landlady
THE SPIRIT OF WONDER: MISS CHINA'S RING (1992) is an odd piece of made-for-video anime, a gentle drama that lasts 42 minutes and involves a spunky Chinese girl, known locally as Miss China, who runs a tavern/restaurant/inn on Prince of Wales Island. She has a tenant named Professor Breckenridge, a middle-aged inventor who's behind in his rent as he puts the finishing touches on a machine that promises "trips to the moon." The professor has an assistant in town, a handsome young man named Jim Floyd, whom Miss China is clearly attracted to. His feelings for her are not as visible, especially when his mysterious visits to a cute blond florist at an outdoor market in town make Miss China jealous. There's a trio of adorable local children who hang around Miss China as well.
I'm not sure what Breckenridge's invention is meant to accomplish. It's called a Space Reflex Telescope and makes some kind of connection to the moon, but it's never adequately explained. At some point, Jim and Breckenridge use the machine to project the words, "Happy Birthday Miss China" onto the surface of the moon, as seen from the town. A neat trick, to be sure, but what's the value in it? Later, Jim and Miss China sit atop a miniature boulder-sized version of the moon trapped somehow in the professor's projector. Near the end, the machine does something, with the help of Miss China's martial arts skills, with a result that would normally have catastrophic implications for everybodyon the planet!--but nobody addresses these implications nor does anyone seem to care. Weird. And not terribly satisfying as entertainment.
Breckenridge acts a like a typically blustery and lecherous older Japanese male, as seen in so much anime, and nothing like an eccentric English inventor. (Check out Katsuhiro Otomo's STEAMBOY for a more believable take on this character type.) Twice in the film Breckenridge touches Miss China quite inappropriately. She acts startled both times and tells him to stop it the second time, which may be enough for some viewers, but not for others. Noriko Hidaka, who does the voice of Miss China, does a fine job and sings a very pretty end song.
The film takes place on Prince of Wales Island, which is off the coast of Alaska, but the setting looks less like a cold, rocky Alaskan town than a quaint, provincial English town, set amidst rolling hills and green meadows, as seen in an era before cars or telephones. Miss China even serves kidney pie to the sailors at her lunch counter, an English dish not likely to be served in Alaska.
In the Japanese language/English subtitled VHS tape edition of this film (from AnimEigo), all the characters speak Japanese. (I did see an English-dubbed version 15 years ago at an anime convention, but I don't recall if the accents were correct.) Some English words are heard in the Japanese dialogue. All the signs and most of the writing are in English. (Miss China does write in Chinese at one point.) Miss China has the most detailed character design in the film. She wears some beautiful cheongsam dresses in the course of the film, one with a rose embroidered on it and one with stars. She makes herself up one night for a date on a hill in the moonlight with Jim. She'd be quite pretty if she didn't have such a prominent nose (a quirk afflicting all the characters in the film). The animation is otherwise consistently pleasant to look at, but not terribly distinguished.
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