Who could have thought of a bathhouse of magical creatures, a young witch going to a big city for training and a princess brought up by wolves fighting to protect a forest? It has to be the master storyteller, Hayao Miyazaki.
“It’s not a cartoon, it’s anime”, we often hear fans retort. After only a few films, one would realize the truth in the statement. There is a sense of other-worldliness about Studio Ghibli movies, whether it is the characters, frames or themes. It is difficult to not be enchanted by Miyakazi's world of unusual reality, imagination and heartwarming benevolence. Thus making his movies appropriate for people of all age groups.
Born in an affluent family in 1941, his father, Katsuji Miyazaki (born 1915), was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, his brother's company, which manufactured rudders for fighter planes during World War II. Miyazaki’s mother who is described as a strict, intellectual woman who regularly questioned "socially accepted norms" was the closest to him. Despite this, his life saw tragic turns in the backdrop of World War II. His village Utsunomiya was bombed when he was four which had a lasting impression on his mind. As a child, he had digestive issues and was told he would not live beyond 20. This made him feel like an outcast throughout his initial life.
During his graduation in political science and commerce, he joined a club for research for children’s literature, the closest thing to a comic, he says, at that time. In his free time, he used to sit in his art teacher’s studio, talk about life and politics and draw manga art.
After working with many animation studios, Hayao Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1983. Thus began a chain and fantastic animations including films like Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Porco Rosso (1992). The films were met with critical and commercial success in Japan.
Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke became the first animated film ever to win the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year and briefly became the highest-grossing film in Japan following its release in 1997.
His 2001 work Spirited Away became a landmark film, with its unusual story and transgressiveness. Initially being rejected by a major US movie distributor as unsuitable for US audiences, the film went on win Best Animated Feature at the 75th Academy awards. However, Miyazaki did not attend the ceremony. Later, he said, “It is regrettable that I cannot rejoice from my heart over the prize because of the deeply sad events taking place in the world.” He was referring to the war in the Gulf.
Among dominant themes, human relationship with nature plays a major role in Studio Ghibli films. These movies often explore the exploitation of nature in the name of development, or introspection amidst natural settings. Miyazaki once said, “Modern life is so thin and shallow and fake. I look forward to when developers go bankrupt, Japan grows poor and wild grasses take over.”
Many of his films have a sense of loss. In Princess Mononoke, it’s a loss at a more epic level, anticipating the issues of industrialization that would afflict Japan in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
A closer observation also shows us the socio-political messages behind Miyazaki’s movies. Early films like My Neighbor Totoro are in a way an elegy for a lost Japan, a Japan of farms, villages, mountains, and nature all working together. The portrayal of something socialistic is presented in not a didactic, but interesting way.
During an interview, Miyazaki once said he chose female characters partly to defamiliarize or make the familiar unfamiliar. For a great time, it was male characters who, whether in animation or feature films, took the centre stage and action. Perhaps, it is here that strong-willed female characters find an origin in his films. Miyazaki attempts to create nuanced, compelling characters that are beyond princesses or damsels in distress. Moreover, Miyazaki’s movies are led by platonic bonds of affection rather than romantic love. Whether it is the friendship between Chihiro and Haku, Kiki and Tombo, or Princess Mononoke and Ashitaka, this dynamics is unique from other films of young love.
“I become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather I want to portray a slightly different relationship. One where they inspire each other to live. If I am able to, then perhaps ill be able to portray a true expression of love,” Miyazaki said.
Another powerful theme is the dissolution of good and evil in his characters. In a sense, there are no clear antagonists and protagonists. This is especially visible in Princess Mononoke where characters led by noble ambitions are dealing with conflicts to make it happen.
“You must see with eyes uncrowded with hate. See the good in which is evil and the evil in which is good. Pledge yourself to neither side but balance them to preserve the balance between the two.”
This makes Miyazaki’s movies relevant in today’s world, not just for adolescents but people of all age groups. This animation is beautiful, thoughtful, and not to forget for the greater psychological development.
Although Miyazaki describes himself as a pessimistic person, he believes in new beginnings and struggles that make us stronger. In an interview, he once said, “I wanted to convey this message to children that life is worth living.”
In the years to come, Miyazakazi’s works will surely inspire more and more people to his world of imagination, beauty and insights of the self. CitySpidey wishes this artist a very happy birthday!