Styles and themes of Hayao Miyazaki

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Hayao Miyazaki is a Japanese film director, screenwriter and producer whose animated works are characterised by several recurring themes and motifs.

Many of these recurrent features are notable for being so uncommon in the medium, for example the lack of evil or villain characters, the advocacy of a pacifist ethic and prominence of feminism. Other features are more notable for being personal idiosyncrasies, such as the obsession with flight and the symbolism of water. The formal emphasis placed on these various elements constitutes a running discourse that transcends the individual works and creates a larger, ongoing meta-narrative.

Good and evil[edit]

Most of Miyazaki's characters are dynamic, capable of change, and not easily caricatured into traditional good-evil dichotomies. Many menacing characters have redeeming features, and are not firmly defined as antagonists. In Princess Mononoke, Lady Eboshi destroys the forest for industrial raw materials without the concerns for animals' life; however lepers and former prostitutes that she shelters have great respect for her. The film culminates in reconciliation, rather than the vanquishing of some irredeemable evil. This theme is unusual for an animated film, as most films in the medium clearly divide good and evil.[citation needed]

Miyazaki stated in Spirited Away, "the heroine [is] thrown into a place where the good and bad dwell together. [...] She manages not because she has destroyed the 'evil,' but because she has acquired the ability to survive."[1]

Miyazaki has explained that the lack of clearly defined good and evil is because of his views of the 21st century as a complex time, where old norms no longer are true and need to be re-examined. Simple stereotypes cannot be used, even in children's films. Even though Miyazaki sometimes feels pessimistic about the world, he prefers to show children a positive world view instead.[2]

Some of Miyazaki's early films featured distinctly evil villains, as in Castle of Cagliostro or Castle in the Sky; other films are remarkable for having no villains at all, as in Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro. Some of these have a strong flavour of traditional Japanese culture and Shinto, or ancient animistic spiritual beliefs.

Environmentalism[edit]

Miyazaki's films often emphasize environmentalism and the Earth's fragility,[3] especially in the context of critiquing development and pollution.[citation needed]

In My Neighbor Totoro, the great tree tops a hillside on which magical creatures reside, and the family worships this tree. This ecological consciousness is echoed in Princess Mononoke with the giant primordial forest, trees, flowers and wolves. In Spirited Away, Miyazaki's environmental concerns surface in the "stink spirit", a river spirit who has been polluted and who must be cleansed in the bath house. Miyazaki explains in the DVD commentary that the inspiration for this scene was a personal experience of his own when he helped to clean a polluted river near his home. This theme is also reflected in the story of the river spirit Haku, whose river had been destroyed by a building project. In Miyazaki's most recent film, Ponyo, Ponyo's father shows a strong dislike for humans and their filth. This is evidenced by the disgusting condition of the bay area where Sosuke lives and the net catching nothing but garbage that also forces Ponyo into a glass bottle.

In Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the ecological paradise is threatened by military men and violent state-controlled armies. In each film, the conflict between the natural way of life and the military destruction of culture, land and resources is central to the plight of the protagonists. When battle scenes are shown in each, the militaristic music and ecological destruction is paramount to the endangerment of the inhabitants of the villages.

In an interview with The New Yorker, Miyazaki claimed that much of modern culture is "thin and shallow and fake", and "not entirely jokingly" looked forward to an apocalyptic age in which "wild green grasses" take over.[4] Growing up in the Shōwa period was an unhappy time for him because "nature — the mountains and rivers — was being destroyed in the name of economic progress."[5] Nonetheless, he suggests that adults should not "impose their vision of the world on children."[6]

Love[edit]

Many of Miyazaki's films deal with the power of love. In Miyazaki's films, the power of love is enough to break curses set upon people. In "Spirited Away", Kamajii tells Haku that Chihiro saved him from Zeniba's curse using the power of her love for him. In "Howl's Moving Castle" Sophie's confidence in herself and her love for Howl breaks the curse laid upon her by the Wicked Witch of the Waste. In Miyazaki's screenplay of "Whisper of the Heart" Shizuku's love for Seiji makes her follow her passion of writing and write the book while Seiji is away in Cremona, Italy. In "Ponyo", if Sousuke's love for Ponyo was true then the world would be saved. In "Porco Rosso", Fio, joyous that Porco won the competition, gives him a kiss; as Porco and Curtis are leaving, Curtis sees Porco's face and reacts with surprise, implying that Porco may have reverted to human form after Fio's kiss.

Pacifism[edit]

Both Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke feature strong anti-war themes. Ending the humans' hateful war with themselves and nature becomes the driving force of Ashitaka in Princess Mononoke. In the manga version of Nausicaä, Miyazaki spends much time depicting the brutality and suffering of war in graphic detail through most of the story. The post-apocalyptic world is filled with remains of the old civilizations that ended with wars and the destruction of the environment. In Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the military is portrayed as mindlessly and needlessly violent, greedy, and heavyhanded. In Howl's Moving Castle, Howl's negative view of the war is clear and he refuses to join the fight in any official capacity. Despite this, he frequently participates on the magical plane of the war as a demon bird battling "hack" wizards, in hopes he might have a positive impact.

In 2003, when Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, Miyazaki did not attend the awards show personally. He later explained that it was because he "didn’t want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq".[7]

Flight[edit]

Nausicaä flying her Mehve over the Valley of the Wind.

Flight, especially human flight, is a recurring theme in Miyazaki's films. He thinks of flight as a form of liberation from gravity.[8] The Studio Ghibli 2002 short film Imaginary Flying Machines is completely devoted to the wonders of flight and is voiced by Miyazaki himself.

In addition to the many aerial devices and drawings of Laputa: Castle in the Sky, which is a flying city, this theme is found in Nausicaä piloting her Mehve and the airborne armies in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki riding her broomstick and watching dirigibles fly over her city in Kiki’s Delivery Service, the large Totoro carrying Satsuki and Mei across the night sky in My Neighbor Totoro, Chihiro riding on Haku's back when in his dragon form in Spirited Away and Howl and Sophie soaring above their town in Howl's Moving Castle. The protagonist in Porco Rosso is a pilot and the film is focused on flying, airplanes and aerial combat, as well as the connection between flight, Ascension and the afterlife.

Interestingly, one of Miyazaki's most acclaimed films, Princess Mononoke, does not contain a flying sequence, or any flying characters. However, it could be argued that the scenes in which Yakul leaps across large rocks and ledges are moments of "flight".

Politics[edit]

The influence of Miyazaki's early interest in Marxism is apparent in some of his films, such as Porco Rosso. In Castle in the Sky, the working class is portrayed positively. In Future Boy Conan, the ideologies of the friendly town High Harbor and the antagonistic nation Industria are reversed from their source in the (Cold War-era) Alexander Key novel The Incredible Tide on which the series is based—the originally Communist Industria becomes a runaway capitalist state, and the capitalist High Harbor becomes a farming commune.

Miyazaki abandoned Marxism while creating his manga Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind. However, Miyazaki still holds many socialist ideas and is critical of capitalism, globalization, and their impacts on modern life. Commenting on the 1954 Animal Farm animated film, he has said that "exploitation is not only found in communism, capitalism is a system just like that. I believe a company is common property of the people that work there. But that is a socialistic idea."[9]

Feminism[edit]

Miyazaki has been called a feminist by Studio Ghibli President Toshio Suzuki, in reference to his attitude to female workers.[10] This is evident in the all-female factories of Porco Rosso and Princess Mononoke, as well as the matriarchal bath-house of Spirited Away. All of Miyazaki's films are populated by strong female protagonists that go against gender roles common in Japanese animation and fiction,[11] from pirate captains to industrialists. Even in lighter films such as Kiki's Delivery Service, all of the leading characters are professional women such as artists (Ursula), bakers (Orsono), fashion-designers (Maki) and witches (Kiki and Kokiri). Miyazaki even goes more into depth with feminism when choosing which time period to write his stories in. For example, Miyazaki said that he chose to write Princess Mononoke during the Muromachi period because it "was a world in which chaos and change were the norm. It was a more fluid period, when there were no distinctions between peasants and a samurai, when women were bolder and freer".[12]

Children and childhood[edit]

...children's souls are the inheritors of historical memory from previous generations.

Hayao Miyazaki

Many of Miyazaki's works deal with childhood. For example, My Neighbor Totoro has two young girls who, unlike adults, can see the spirit world, and in Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea a boy befriends a magic creature from the sea. Both Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away deal with growing up.

Miyazaki has expressed strong feelings about childhood, saying that it's a paradisical time when "you're protected by your parents and unaware of the problems around you". His views of children in the modern world are a bit worried, though, as he wonders about their dependence on the "virtual world" and the lack of contact with the natural world. Because of this, he creates his films inspired by children near himself, with an aim to "understand their world".[5]

Water[edit]

Water, or, more specifically, retrograde fluidity, is a recurring theme in opposition to the Ascension symbolism of flight (cf. Porco Rosso). Miyazaki’s characters are often on the verge of discorporating into liquid entirely: from the stink-demon, to the river dragon spirit Haku in Spirited Away and the God-Warrior at the climax of Nausicaa to the globular henchmen of the Witch of the Waste in Howl's Moving Castle. This theme is pivotal throughout 2009's Ponyo. This conflict between the two themes of flight and watery dissolution is best embodied in the seaplanes of Porco Rosso, the heroes being able to navigate through both worlds. Water symbolically represents the contradictions of entrapment and freedom, life and death.[citation needed]

Miyazaki has stated his warm appreciation for Shinto water purification rituals, and these have been cited as the inspiration for the role of water in Spirited Away: the characters of Haku the river dragon and the polluted river spirit; the setting and function of the bathhouse itself.[13] Rain as an element is also a key plot device in both Kiki's Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Alvin Lu, editor ; introduction by Hayao Miyazaki (2002). The Art Of Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Viz Communications Inc. p. 15. ISBN 1-56931-777-1. 
  2. ^ Yves Montmayeur (2005). Ghibli The Miyazaki Temple (Documentary film). Paris. 
  3. ^ http://www.allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll?p=avg&sql=2:167694~T1
  4. ^ Talbot, Margaret (2005-01-10). "The Animated Life" (via the Internet Archive). The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 2006-05-24. Retrieved 2007-06-07. "He's said, not entirely jokingly, that he looks forward to the time when Tokyo is submerged by the ocean and the NTV tower becomes an island, when the human population plummets and there are no more high-rises." 
  5. ^ a b Schilling, Mark (2008-12-04). "An audience with Miyazaki, Japan's animation king". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2008-12-04. 
  6. ^ "Midnight Eye interview: Hayao Miyazaki". Midnight Eye. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  7. ^ Alex, Pham (2009-07-24). "Comic-Con: Miyazaki breaks his silent protest of America's actions in Iraq with visit to the U.S.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  8. ^ US Spirited Away premiere press Q&A
  9. ^ "Hayao Miyazaki interview on the 1954 Animal Farm animated film". Neppu (Studio Ghibli’s monthly report magazine) (in Japanese). November 2008.  (Summary at GhibliWorld.com)
  10. ^ Birth of Studio Ghibli (from Nausicaä DVD). Studio Ghibli. "Miyazaki is a feminist, actually. He has this conviction that to be successful, companies have to make it possible for their female employees to succeed too. You can see this attitude in Princess Mononoke. All characters working the bellows in the iron works are women. Then there's Porco Rosso. Porco's plane is rebuilt entirely by women. (Toshio Suzuki)" 
  11. ^ Napier, Susan J. (2001). Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. Basingstoke: Palgrave. ISBN 978-0-312-23863-6. 
  12. ^ Cavallaro, Dani(2006), The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki. Mcfarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p.p. 122
  13. ^ http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/Vol8No2/boydShinto.htm . Journal of Religion and Film, Boyd and Nishimura, Vol. 8, No.2, October 2004.

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