Hayao Miyazaki-sama

hayao miyazaki

Konnichi-wa!

The Wind Rises, the final film from the acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki, has recently gotten its wide release in the U.S.

To mark this occasion, I thought I would share my thoughts on the major themes that can be found in Miyazaki’s masterpieces. He’s a director I love so much that I went to Berkeley once and spent a couple hundred bucks just to see him answer some questions and talk about his films.

So let’s get to it.

Man Encroaches on Nature

Man versus Nature comes up in nearly every Miyazaki film, but it is the central theme in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke and Ponyo. Environmental awareness is an important factor as each type of character illustrates a different aspect of this issue, but usually a kind of compromise is reached between humanity and the environment. Critics often bring up the apocalyptic climaxes in several of his films as being an indication that Miyazaki doesn’t care for mankind as much as the natural world. At the Berkeley program he humorously admitted this, saying in an ideal world he would live on a pristine beach deserted except for him and his wife.

What I think people miss for the apocalypse is that the world doesn’t end in Miyazaki as nature throws its holocaust around. It’s more of a cleansing, a compact being reached between the forces of nature and mankind. Think Noah’s ark, but without the killing of everyone else in the world. In other words, life continues, albeit in a new way. Quite the opposite of frightening, though the sequences do contain thrills and chills, these climaxes actually end up conveying a hopeful feeling. Miyazaki seems to believe that as bad as man can be for the environment, progress will not and should not be stopped. Just take a breath once in a while and don’t ignore the balance the earth needs to thrive.

giant warriors--nausicaa

This is what can happen when humanity acts all stupid…

Personifications

Connected with the theme of nature, Miyazaki often has characters that are personifications of nature. From the Kodama of Princess Mononoke, to the various Totoros of My Neighbor Totoro, its common to find these benevolent yet mischievous creatures in his films that represent aspects of nature, or perhaps just the mystery of the natural world. Though he, thankfully, has only presented us with one talking beast (Kiki’s cat Jiji in Kiki’s Delivery Service), animals in Miyazaki tend to have a spirit to them even if they are not technically personifications. And the people in his films don’t own pets; they have animal companions who they treat as well as a person.

(The beasts of Mononoke I don’t count as talking animals, they represent concepts more than the animal forms they happen to be in. And that little frog guy from Spirited Away is also a spirit, not a mere frog who can speak. And Porco Rosso—from Porco Rosso, duh!—is a dude turned into a huge, talking pig. And, anyway, let’s move along…)

porco rosso

I’m not an animal…I mean, technically, sort of…

Again, this seems to return to Miyazaki’s core idea that, as humans, we share this planet. We don’t own it and it is not ours to just do with what we like. Rather, we need to respect nature and the animal world.

Don’t let Totoro’s laidback personality fool you. You know this guy could kick your ass if he wanted to.

totoro

I know you weren’t gonna throw that trash there, motherfucker…

Bad Guys

As in, really there aren’t any. With the exception of the count in The Castle of Cagliostro and maybe Muska from Castle in the Sky, true villains are hard to come by in Miyazaki. Sometimes characters that seem evil at first turn into something quite different as the film goes on and layers of their personality emerge. You find that most of the antagonists in Miyazaki work from noble motives that are just skewed by the circumstances they find themselves in. For instance, the nominal villain of Princess Mononoke, the Lady Eboshi, has remarkable qualities that are very admirable.

If anything its some of the weaker characters, often the sidekick of the main villain, that you have to watch out for. These are amoral people that are truly acting for their own sake. Jigo from Mononoke and Kurotowa from Nausicaa come to mind here. Their only saving grace is that they are not strong enough to lead more people and that’s why they are sidekicks. Dudes like that also give Miyazaki a voice to let out the more cynical and sarcastic side of his humor in short, sharp doses.

jigo

I may be here for comic relief, but I will jab my chopsticks into your nuts if you don’t watch me…

Show Miyazaki to Kids

If you don’t know Miyazaki I recommend his films to anyone. You may dislike anime but even so, don’t let Miyazaki’s Japanese nationality put you off. He is his own genre and nobody else makes movies like his. If you have to entertain a child, consider showing a Miyazaki film instead of the latest Disney product. Some are a little advanced, so start with My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service. The only one that’s really not suitable for toddlers is Princess Mononoke.  Nausicaa can be a little intense, too, but it’s not as violent as Mononoke. In every other Miyazaki I’ve seen there is little to no violence.

Miyazaki’s studio is Studio Ghibli. They release other animated films as well that are mostly done in the Miyazaki-style, though by various directors. Most of them are also worth checking out, particularly Grave of the Fireflies. That one’s definitely not for the kiddies, though, I just thought I’d throw it out there. It’s a masterpiece, but will rip your heart out and gut you. Some movies are not just for entertainment purposes.

So there you have it. The best animator in the world, and one of my favorite directors of all time. (My favorite of his movies? Spirited Away.) If you love Miyazaki too, give me a big “Totoro to-to-ro!”

hayao miyazaki and his characters

Sayonara!

Filmography–(as director)

The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984)

Castle in the Sky (1986)

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Porco Rosso (1992)

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Spirited Away (2001)

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Ponyo (2008)

The Wind Rises (2013)

 

 

{Mein WordPress Kampf 3 should come out next week some time. I just needed a little break from writing just about myself.}

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6 thoughts on “Hayao Miyazaki-sama

  1. Before now, I didn’t know anything about him. Your passion comes through and makes me want to investigate further.

  2. That’s great! For a first timer, I think Princess Mononoke is probably the best bet. Lots of people are put off by anime but Miyazaki is more akin to Pixar than Japanese anime. In fact, Pixar was hugely inspired by his films. My favorite is Spirited Away but it’s a very weird flick. If you’re feeling adventurous you could start there! Anyway, if you see one let me know…

  3. Thanks for reminding me about these. It’s been several years since I saw Kiki’s Delivery Service, but I should go back and check them out. Great post! Thanks!

    • Kiki’s a wonderful movie, that was the first of Miyazaki’s that I ever saw. When Princess Mononoke hit the States is when I really became a fan though. That’s his most intense movie so a lot of people prefer his lighter style that is fine for all ages…

    • I think you’d really like his movies, Charlotte. Some of them even have very nice love stories. Though with kids, usually, so they’re innocent. And the music is incredible! You’d appreciate the scores a lot, they have beautiful themes. Miyazaki’s composer is named Joe Hisaishi. YouTube some scenes and you’ll want to see the movie, I guarantee it…

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