AKA: Kumo no You ni, Kaze no You Ni; Kumo Kaze; Kokyu Shosetsu; Inner Palace Harem Story
Genre: Drama/Romance/Historical Drama
Year Released: 1990
Running Time: 78 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Pygmalion, My Fair Lady, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Anmitsu Hime
-The Japanese version of Like the Clouds, Like the Wind was used for this review.
-The film is streaming for free on RetroCrush.
-Please check out Casper’s Reasons to Anime blog.
-Review dialogue: O=Ospreyshire/Curtis, C=Casper
-Like the Clouds, Like the Wind was originally a book written by Ken’ichi Sakemi which was released just over a calendar year prior to the movie’s debut as both of them were released in March of 1989 and 1990 respectively.
-This anime film was the first direct-to-TV movie to premiere entirely commercial-free in Japan. Even by American standards, that’s rarely ever done on either network or cable TV.
-Contrary to popular belief, Like the Clouds is NOT a long-lost Ghibli movie. Yes, Ghibli regular animator/character designer Katsuya Kondo (My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, From Up on Poppy Hill among several other Ghibli films) did the character designs, but this movie was animated by Studio Pierrot of all companies. Not only that but the screenplay credits were lost in translation as it was Akira Miyazaki instead of Hayao (no relation) who wrote the script.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: When I researched all the Japanese voice actors, I found a piece of unintentional comedy gold. Like the Clouds, Like the Wind features voice actors involved with both Kimba the White Lion AND The Lion King in it. The elderly and befuddled professor Kakuto is played by the late Kinto Tamura who was the original voice actor of Pauley/Coco (AKA Original Zazu) dating back to the 60s show while his effeminate assistant Kikkyo is voiced by the late Yuji Mitsuya who would eventually be the Japanese dub voice of Timon. This actually happened and the jokes just write themselves here. Even Kakuto is a bit like the major-domo parrot since both of them work for royals and get into a lot of pratfalls. I never thought I would see this happen in what I’ve reviewed. HAHAHAHAHA!
-Like the Clouds, Like the Wind was directed by the late Hisayuki Toriumi who has a very notable career in animating well-known series. He directed Speed Racer, Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets/G-Force/Eagle Riders), The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and the original Area 88 anime.
-Koyo, the monotone woman with a smoking habit who’s also vying to be a wife for the emperor was voiced by Yo Inoue. In her lifetime, she got to be the original voice of Ran from Urusei Yatsura, Kanuka Clancy from the Patlabor series, as well as being the original voice of Bakura in Yu-Gi-Oh!
O: Collaboration is such a wonderful thing and I’m honored to do this again on Iridium Eye. This time, I’ll be teaming up with someone new for this particular review. Joining me for this article is none other than Netherland’s own Casper from Reasons to Anime! How are you doing, Casper?
C: Heya Curtis, thanks for having me. Things have been hectic on my end and I am still in the midst of a home renovation project at the time of writing. Still, I was excited about this collab and made some time to rewatch a movie that’s very dear to me. This was your first time watching it correct? What did you think about it?
O: No problem, Casper. I can certainly relate to being busy despite not dealing with any home renovations at this time, but I hope that is going swimmingly so far. It is always exciting to collab with others since I don’t do so all that often. This was my first time ever seeing this movie even though I’ve heard of this movie for a long time now. Just never had the chance to watch it until recently, but I can say that for other anime series and movies I’ve reviewed on Iridium Eye so far. I thought it was an intriguing watch although I wouldn’t call it my favorite anime movie ever. Before I get really in-depth with these thoughts, I’ll give the readers a quick synopsis of this particular movie from Studio Pierrot.
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind is a tale that takes place in 17th Century China. The country is facing political unrest after the Emperor dies and everyone is freaking out about it. The successor is his 17-year-old son who isn’t seen at first. As the crown is exchanged, all of the original Emperor’s wives and consorts were forced out of the kingdom, so there will be a new set of women for the new ruler. Once word gets out that the new Emperor needs wives, country girl Ginga is overly enthusiastic to give it a try since she’s told that all she has to do is eat and sleep all day without having to do any hard work. Ginga is sent to the capital and faces competition from other women coming from all over the country to be the monarch’s main squeeze. However, Ginga isn’t exactly the pinnacle of empress material since she has a very casual way of speaking, is not very ladylike, and has a brash attitude. She and the other prospects have to learn reading, writing, etiquette, and China’s history among other subjects to be selected. As all of this is going on, the Empress Dowager Kin vows to regain the throne despite not being the current Emperor’s mother, wants to install her son (the Emperor’s half-brother) to rule, and is inciting a rebellion while using several people who weren’t a fan of the original ruler including some “bored” individuals with their own agendas. How will Ginga be Empress material with this stuffy palace, a rebellion underway, and all these other colorful characters around?
C: The character development throughout the movie is handled very well in my opinion. Ginga is a unique member of the new court and I enjoyed watching her interact with people like the elderly tutor or the other potential wives. Her character arc is captivating but also intense as you see the rebellion and nefarious plots unfold in tandem. It got me worried if the emperor, Ginga, and all the other lovable characters could sort themselves out in time to prevent utter disaster.
It does leave the movie as a bit of a slow boil throughout its first half and I think it’s fair that some people can’t get into it for that reason. You mentioned how the movie is sometimes mistaken for a Ghibli film, but once you see it in motion such misunderstandings are quickly dispelled. Like the Clouds, Like the Wind does not have the visual splendor of even the mediocre Ghibli features. It’s pretty enough, but nothing jaw-dropping or exceptionally memorable. Did you experience this as well?
O: The characterization was handled competently. I did get some My Fair Lady kind of vibes with the Ginga character with her being told to “talk properly” and to be a real lady, but the movie never copies or fanboys from that particular work. It was a very nice twist with Ginga being so rambunctious for a good portion, yet ironically succeeding (spoilers minimized) in bizarre, yet weirdly believable ways. She does become more ladylike in an organic way, but at the same time, her tenacity is still there. I think the female characterization was more progressive than I think a lot of people give credit for. Comparing this to let’s say the Disney princess movies that came out the same decade is very stark and it really shows in the final act with it being mostly women defending the kingdom. There’s even a remark about how marrying someone they don’t know isn’t wise which was deconstructive as well as doing it before Elsa from Frozen made it cool (no pun intended). Not only that, but during the battle in the kingdom in the final act, one of the women says that rank isn’t everything as they’re putting their lives on the line against the rebel forces. This was fridge brilliance, but I don’t think people really realize those themes, especially looking at it from the scope of 90s animation tropes or trends at the time. It certainly gave more stakes with the Emperor’s forces being under serious danger.
That’s a fair argument. I didn’t mind the slower pace in the first half of the film. I thought it offered some character development time with Ginga and some of the other characters around her. Yeah, I was surprised with the issue of it being mistaken for a Ghibli movie due to translation errors and actually using a Ghibli regular as the character designer. The characters certainly look like they could be from a Ghibli movie, but the animation as a whole didn’t look like it. At the same time, I would’ve never guessed that Pierrot of all companies animated this. I understand Pierrot isn’t exactly the highest-quality animation studio from a production standpoint, but they never felt like they were copying Ghibli’s animation style at all which I will give props to. The animation is serviceable like most Pierrot works, but nothing too spectacular. Okay, so I’m guilty of bringing up this thought from other reviews involving this studio, but since this doesn’t involve a super-popular Shonen Jump work, they aren’t going to throw extra money that way although they did put some effort in the war scene although the fighters don’t involve someone like Yusuke Urameshi, Naruto Uzumaki, or Ichigo Kurosaki to name a few.
C: I am really into these kinds of stories that start off slow, but build up towards an exciting finale where all the pieces fall into place and you get fantastic action scenes back-to-back, so I certainly didn’t mind the pacing of Like the Clouds, Like the Wind myself. The battle you’re referencing is intense, and not just in terms of cinematography. Getting to see that peaceful life at court, the character arcs, the colorful personalities of all the people involved, and having that all put at stake amidst a seemingly hopeless battle… that’s powerful, emotional stuff right there.
And as a known critic of Ghibli’s work, I don’t really mind that the movie only has a strenuous tie to Ghibli. The animation has its hiccups and shortcuts, but it punches hard where it matters. The backgrounds especially are gorgeous and expansive, but I’d be remiss not to mention the beautiful character designs and the costume designs that go along with that. Seeing Ginga’s outfit change in parallel with her character arc is especially neat.
You’ve been fairly positive up until now, so are there any aspects of the movie you didn’t enjoy?
O: I certainly enjoy some stories with similar builds, so I’m with you right there. Some stories can work really well with that kind of pacing especially if you have a great payoff. You certainly see so much with the empress trials, political intrigue, character interactions, warfare, and some worldbuilding thrown in for good measure. A lot does happen and it doesn’t feel like a random genre roulette if you will. The parts do come together in a way that makes sense.
That makes sense and I see where you’re coming from. Despite the character designs handled by a Ghibli regular, I never thought it was ripping off or fanboying a Ghibli movie. I’d argue that Studio Ponoc’s work is far more guilty of this or even Children Who Chase Lost Voices copied Ghibli tropes and style way more than Like the Clouds, Like the Wind. While the animation could be better, it wasn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination. Good call with the costume designs. Those were a great touch to the different characters especially with the development of the Ginga character.
Besides how I think the animation from Pierrot could’ve been better (and not just because it’s Pierrot even though I do really like a couple of series they made), I did have some issues with this movie. While there was good characterization, I thought the character development for some of the background characters felt rushed or skipped. The big one was Sashaamin, that really snooty noblewoman. She starts out arrogant and narcissistic before suddenly not being concerned about rank during the battle felt like something was missing even if the end result was interesting. The Empress Dowager felt more like a plot device than an actual character. She just stays in the background and you never see the son she’s trying to install as the new emperor which felt pointless. The rebels did this out of boredom and didn’t feel as threatening as they should be even with the damage they do. The plot twist of who the real Emperor was way too predictable for me. While there was a nice sidebar of his sister being there around the palace even though she never gives away the secret, I just knew who was really running things. I also found it very hard to believe that Ginga would believe that said character (I’m avoiding spoilers) was a woman when he clearly has a male voice. Sure, it’s on the higher tenor end and certainly doesn’t look like some macho individual, but I can tell a man voiced him. If anything, I thought Kikkyo was a woman at first when I saw him with the professor not just because of him looking more effeminate than the unnamed character, but also because he had a higher-pitched voice as well as used strictly feminine Japanese words with the dead giveaway being him saying “Atashi (wa)” when saying “I (am)” in his sentences. While my Japanese is a bit rusty, even I still remember the differences between those pronouns regarding that language. Keep in mind, that’s the same word that Kino from Kino’s Journey uses during her backstory moments or Hana from Tokyo Godfathers in general. For a story that takes place in China decades ago, there seems to be a lot of Japanese names for the characters which I find to be really weird as well as being culturally inaccurate. That would be like a movie taking place in let’s say medieval France, but you have characters named Hans, Giuseppe, or Esperanza walking around despite them being ethnically French which makes no sense. Besides that, I wasn’t a fan of some of the music. The ending theme sounded dated even by early 90s standards and some of the background tracks felt kind of flat for me (music pun not intended).
I’ll also have to talk about the elephant in the room with the plot, Like the Clouds is a glorified harem story (just look at some of the alternate titles from the original story). While it’s better than the trashy stuff that was a huge thing in the 00s or even the anime that are adaptions of certain kinds of visual novels, it doesn’t change the fact that you have secrets and wives going on. The word they use a lot in the translation is “consort”, but in some contexts, that’s a nice way of saying “concubine” in the English language. I don’t want to sound like a prude and I’ve watched movies and series with more graphic content, but I’m just calling a spade a spade in this case. That fact about the plot certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
What umbrage did you have with this film, out of curiosity?
C: I’ll certainly acknowledge that characterization is thin throughout and the movie and not even just in regards to side-characters. The Empress Dowager and her son are indeed not present enough and I find that the emperor-to-be himself isn’t that developed either. The characters are endearing enough to make the movie exciting when they are put in danger, but putting the focus so squarely on Ginga certainly came at a cost.
Some characters I also just generally do not like. Kikkyo’s flamboyant qualities are far too over-the-top for the film’s context. His personality is shallowly coded to be as gay as possible and, while that doesn’t necessarily offend me, it is annoying to listen to. Especially as most of the girls in the plot are instantly head-over-heels for him, in spite of his goofy voice and mannerisms. I felt the same about Sashaamin and Ginga’s attendant, though both of those get some redemption at least.
I do, however, disagree with the common argument that the villain motivations are shallow. The rebels begin their pillaging out of sheer boredom, but that is central to the development of Konton and Heisho going forward. This initial goal is key to the movie’s finale, so it’s hardly the “convenient” plot device it’s often made out to be.
The movie has its problems, but I think these are manageable. I’d rather have some shallower characters than a Ghibli film that clocks over 2 hours for only a mildly better result. The characters that frustrate me are balanced out by great inclusions like the rebels, Koyo, and Tamyuun, and I don’t mind the visuals much when you actually see the movie in motion. I have the same problem with Project A-Ko, where the film looks amazing when you watch it or see gifs, but any singular screenshot is bound to look weird.
O: That’s understandable. Some characters were more shallow than others. The Empress Dowager and her son felt like such non-characters (especially the latter) even though one would expect the former to play a much bigger role. The protagonists had enough likability to make me care, but I’ve seen better casts of characters in other movies or series. That makes sense with the spotlight being on Ginga.
Kikkyo did come off as annoying and the flamboyance did get too much. Interesting point about the gay coding of that character because in my research of the voice actors, Yuji Mitsuya actually is gay and came out back in 2017. Knowing this information and with him portraying the character in a super effeminate manner is something that could add to a stereotype of sorts. Maybe I’m not the most qualified to talk about that aspect, but I didn’t know that until writing this review. I did wonder why most of the female characters sans Ginga had this crush on him with his voice and presentation. Good point about those two characters because at least they develop and have some redeemable qualities of sorts. I don’t deny how important the rebellion was for trying to take over the kingdom since they were able to be seen as a threat to the empire. The whole boredom aspect could work in a villainous way and I’ve seen antagonists do evil things for far more shallow reasons, but pure tedium does seem like a weird thing to pillage much less being part of a plot to overthrow the Emperor.
Understandable. That’s certainly an interesting thing to say given how esteemed Ghibli is as a studio even though I heard they didn’t do so well with their first CGI movie. The animation in motion isn’t Pierrot’s best, but at least they actually tried in this movie and I’d argue that Like the Clouds, Like the Wind didn’t even look like a Pierrot work for better or worse depending on how attached one is to the studio. While I haven’t seen Project A-Ko, I at least get what you’re saying as a contrast to anime that looks great with a screenshot or in motion (The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and Gankutsuou come to mind for me).
Like the Clouds, Like the Wind was a decent watch for me. Nothing groundbreaking, but nothing horrible. This was an interesting entry into Pierrot’s catalogue in seeing this not-Ghibli movie with everything going on. It’s been a pleasure reviewing this movie with you, Casper. Any other closing thoughts?
C: I think we got it all covered now. Like the Clouds, Like the Wind is a fascinating and unique movie in the anime landscape. It came out at a time when high-profile anime movies were increasingly tied to TV series and big brands, with the exceptions often being the rare few works from established grandmasters like Otomo, Miyazaki, and Takahata. That it manages to stand strong whilst flanked by the likes of City Hunter and Dragon Ball, not to mention Roujin Z in the year after, is a testament to the movie’s strength and appeal. There’s a lot to nitpick at, but Like the Clouds, Like the Wind deserves some leniency, I feel.
Even outside of the historical context, the movie holds up well to this very day. I’ve rewatched it twice already and have no doubt in my mind that I’ll return to it again.
O: Sounds very good. It’s been a pleasure collaborating with you on this review.
Adjustable Point Scores:
-Add 1-2 points if you’re a fan of historical dramas in animation.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you want pristine story pacing.
-Good voice acting
-Decent characterization with the lead characters
-Great character designs and art style
-A bombastic finale that ties the whole movie together
-Some storytelling pacing issues
-The Empress Dowager and her son don’t play as big of a role as one would expect
6/10 points (Ospreyshire/Curtis)
8/10 points (Casper)
Content Advisory: Like the Clouds, Like the Wind would most likely get a hard PG if this got an official rating. There’s violence mainly with the rebellion in the final act of the film and multiple characters do die in it. The language is mild, but it’s not that big of an issue. Polygamy and the usage of concubines do play a role in this society with the Emperor having multiple wives and consorts around even though nothing sexual happens with the characters, but it’s something worth noting.
Written by Curtis Monroe and Casper
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Like the Clouds, Like the Wind is property of Discotek. The DVD cover is from Ghibli Fandom and is property of Discotek.