Hayao Miyazaki: Animating Life

Do you remember which was the first movie directed by Miyazaki that you ever saw? I do, I was 5 and Spirited Away scared the life out of me, as well as a lot of children at that time. But I remember loving the movie, and wanting more of this kind. So my dad made me watch My neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle… It was always a good memory, these movies have a good moral to which you can identify: the impact of Humanity on Nature in Princess Mononoke and Ponyo, anti-war main character in Porco Rosso, child dreams in Totoro… Growing up with it, I didn’t fully acknowledge the process of making these films and now that Miyazaki is 81 years old, I think it’s time to pay respect to his incredible work throughout the years.

Studio Ghibli’s final Hayao Miyazaki film is reportedly almost finished: ‘How Do You Live?’ is currently ahead of schedule (for the pleasure of the fans) although no release date is announced yet. With this good news in mind, let’s take a look back at Miyazaki’s Universe and what makes it so special and unique.

Have you noticed that in almost every cartoon or animation, when a crowd is pictured, there is never a single thought for individuality? You cannot focus on one background character as they look like they are not real and without a particular purpose: they are created only to fill the crowd, just a drawing. That’s where Miyazaki first distinct himself from the others: every of his character’s movements shows motivation. As he said: “Crowds of people are not a miserable, faceless bunch. They make up society.” In a lot of his movies, crowds are pictured full of life, with each character having its own life and makes us believe that the movie is just a narrative anchored in a bigger world. It’s all about the details that make a world: leaves blowing in the background, insects running around, crowds doing tasks for a specific reason… Everything feels so alive, even though it’s an animated movie. In Miyazaki’s view: ”My films show the world’s beauty. Beauty otherwise unnoticed. That’s what I want to see”. His movies are also very different from what we are used to watch. As he says: “Logical storylines sacrifice creativity. Kids get it. They don’t operate on logic”. There are a lot of moments in his movies where we can just take a break from the plot, look around and actually relax. Miyazaki refers to it as 間 (Ma): the space between a clap, the moment a water drop touches water, sort of a pause in time and space. These littles moments of no actions in his movies helps the story to grow in a bigger dimension. He strongly believes that only kids pay attention to that sort of detail. In fact, he is making movies for children. For them to dream, learn values and make up a better society in the future.

Born in 1941, he was put in a community that had to face the ruins of post-WWII Japan. Dreaming and having fun wasn’t a possibility at that time, but it led him to create his own essence: concentrating on what remains, rather than what is lost. This essence is really well described and approached in The Wind Rises, as the main character focuses on his life and dreams during a tough WWII that’s been raging around him. He chooses to love his wife as much as he can and to work on his planes as much as he could, which really demonstrates the essence Miyazaki is carrying. A key point in his movies is the definition of good and evil. There is no good handsome protagonist fighting against the bad and evil antagonist. There is always a shade, it’s never black and white, but gray. The masterpiece Princess Mononoke articulates this idea: lady Eboshi, the leader of a mining camp, provides food, shelter and work to former prostitutes and lepers. But on the other hand, her greed is pushing her and her colony to fight against the God of Nature and princess Mononoke (a girl raised by wolves) with firearms and deforestation. The main character, Ashitaka, is right in the middle. He just wants to stem the flood of blood and sees the good in both sides. This is met by animosity by both sides as they each see him as supporting the enemy. The God of Nature is also depicted neither good nor bad in this movie. Each step it takes creates life as well as it destroys it, because that’s how everything in life is: a swing between good and evil, an equilibrium. It’s not about a superhero that kills a bad character, this cannot be life and it’s not relatable.

One last thing that I personally wanted to mention, is the importance of female characters. They are brave, smart, and the center of almost every one of his movies (Chihiro, Arrietty, Nausicaä, Howl’s Moving Castle…). It comes from his mother, who was a strong independent woman that developed spinal tuberculosis when he was young. She had a big sense of justice and lived her life as much as she could despite the disease. I think that it is an amazing example of giving the children a better idea of what life really is rather than just a male hero praised by everyone for being the stronger or the most handsome in the movie.

Now that we’ve looked at what makes Miyazaki’s movies so special, I want to thank him for his amazing work that provided joy, tears, laughter and admiration to every person that watched it. If you’ve never watched a film from him, I highly recommend you to do it tonight, trust me: you won’t regret it.

Remember that Hayao Miyazaki has a simple message in all of his films: live life to the fullest.

Hugo Lhomedet

Any-mation: Hayao Miyazaki | The mind of a Master

NHK: 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki

Credit photo: Studio Ghibli © All Rights Reserved.

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