Academic article: Miyazaki: the Man, the Mould & The Machinations

This is the raw draft of an academic article I’m writing for publication. It’s basically 1,200 words over the limit, so needs to be cut down.

the topic itself is on famed animator & head of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki Hayao. A brief bio & examples of his works, themes & influences.

It’s a rambled mess but they wanted a conversational style aimed at the not exceptionally bright & this does mimic how I talk (asides & all).

Anyway, please give feedback if you have any.


Miyazaki: the Man, the Mould & the Machinations
by
Shadow & Craig Norris

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If you were to ask any involved with media/cultural studies -be they academic, critic or pop culture consumer- the question: “Who is the greatest creator of animation the world has ever produced?”, their answer would all undoubtably “Miyazaki Hayao”.

Miyazaki strides the world of film & animation like a titan of old. Garnering such titles as “The God of anime”, the “godfather of animated cinema” & “the Walt Disney of the East”. Yet, in his humbleness, he rejects such titles.

Miyazaki’s presence in the filmography is felt the world over by fans & creators alike. To a level that many of his works are considered one of the greatest factors upon the mass consumption of Japanese media on a global level, allowing for a greater awareness of, & desire for, Japanese media products.

It has been argued for over three decades that he is the one who has set the mould for anime films, to those who wish to create such art & to those consider themselves devotees of such cinematic art forms.

Yet, to understand why, you must first understand the man, the mould that he made & the machinations behind his works.

Miyazaki the Man:

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Miyazaki Hayao was born in 1941, the son of the director of Miyazaki Airplane, who made parts for the Zero fighter plane. It was this early life that sparked Miyazaki’s constant interest in airplanes, flight & the freedom that it brings. The fact that his family made parts for the Zero was also the reason for the subject of his final film as director The Wind Rises (2013), which is the story of Hirokoshi Jiro who created the Zero.

Due to his family’s affluence & military connections, Miyazaki says that he was able to live out the war in relative comfort but he says that witnessing the firebombing of the town of Utsunomiya affected him greatly for the rest of his life. During a 1988 lecture, he said how his family’s callous abandonment of people feeling that burning town gave him the resolve to become a compassionate individual, a theme that permeates his work. During the release of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) he also told how the image of the burning sky scarred him for life, leading to the creation of the apocalyptic war scenes in his first independent feature      Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), which were revisited in Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986) & Howl’s Moving Castle.

In his early teens, Miyazaki said that his single greatest influence was the godfather of manga, Tezuka Osamu (creator of Astro Boy). Miyazaki focussed all of his energy into becoming a manga artist but destroyed all of his early works, calling them “a poor copy of Tezuka-sensei”. Still wanting to be creative but at a loss what to do, Miyazaki saw the animated feature Hakujaden (1958) (Tale of the White Serpent), which made him fall in love with both the heroine of the film & animation in general. Realising that if he wanted to be an animator he would need to learn to draw the human body better, Miyazaki returned to his manga work.

After graduating university with degrees in political science & economics, Miyazaki began working low level jobs in the anime industry, writing & co-directing several TV series, such as very adult Lupin III. Eventually, after much labour, he managed to be given his first film directing job, The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), a movie adaptation of Lupin III. It was this film that directors such as Steven Spielberg says put Miyazaki on the map as a writer & director of animated features.

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His next film, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (based upon his own manga), about a girl trying to heal a world broken by fiery holocaust, propelled Miyazaki into mainstream fame as a director in Japan -even if he only managed cult status in the West for many years. Each new release was eagerly awaited by his growing fan base until 1999, when he released Spirited Away, which pushed him into the mainstream international spotlight.

Miyazaki has made only made 3 feature films since there (making a total of 11 features) but each broke new box office records.

In 2013, he announced his retirement from feature film making with his final release The Wind Rises but his close friend & frequent collaborator Takahata Isao (maker of the heart wrenching film The Grave of Fireflies) wearly says that Miyazaki will never be able to keep away from film making no matter how old he gets.

The Mould Miyazaki Made:

Few would argue over how influential Miyazaki has been in nearly four decades in animation -everyone from members of Disney-Pixar to comic writers such as Grant Morrison & Bryan Lee O’Malley to writer/illustrator Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius) but what have been some of the influences upon Miyazaki himself?

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miyazaki has an exception passion for foreign literature, art & philosophy. Preferring them over many Japanese works, even collecting books in both English & Japanese.

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He’s often spoken about his love of Western fantasy & European fairytales. Once telling the author Ursula le Guin that he keeps a copy of her books by his bed so he can read whenever he gets the urge.

Miyazaki has also shown a great love of such classics as The Wizard of Oz & Alice In Wonderland -although both books (& their various adaptations) are surprisingly popular in Japan. Miyazaki tends to pepper his films with references to them, such as Chihiro’s trans-world journey in Spirited Away.

The Machinations of Miyazaki:

One of Miyazaki’s most famous & enduring qualities is his use of various social, political & spiritual as well as visual themes through his films. Many consider the most obvious to be his staunch environmentalism, as seen in Nausicaä & Princess Mononoke (1997) as well as his love for aircraft & flight -which are central themes for Laputa, Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) & Porco Rosso (1992).

Though what is slightly more skirted over is Miyazaki’s humanist approach, his idealisation of community & human connection -to each other, to nature & to the spiritual world. Some have argued that this stems from his aforementioned experiences during WW2 & the following American occupation but it extends deeper than that.

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His films Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away explore the dehumanisation nature of material obsession & extreme Capitalism; how they affect our connection with the natural & spiritual worlds as well as divorce us from our sense of community & connectivity with other people. Such themes are echoed in Porco Rosso & Howl’s Moving Castle but they focus more on the negative transformations caused by war & other conflict (something that Princess Mononoke also addresses with the Forest Spirit Boar turning into a demon).

Miyazaki’s proposed solution to such dehumanisation & disconnection is determination through hard work, stoicism & forcing oneself through difficult situations to arrive at a point of growth. Yet never to do such things in isolation.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Miyazaki openly rejects the machoness of many male anime characters, which focuses on the strong being alone because they are strong. He believes that people can only become whole once they accept others, especially outsiders, into their lives.

Miyazaki’s other form of rejection of anime tropes & cliches comes in his use of female protagonists. Unlike so many other depictions of female characters in Japanese media, especially in the girls only genre known as shojo, Miyazaki refuses to sexualise, victimise or belittle his female protagonist (of which are more numerous than male protagonists in his filmography). In fact, Japanese media expert Susan J. Napier cites Miyazaki’s ability to create female characters who “are remarkable for taking charge of their own lives” as one of the primary reason for the popularity of his films.

What makes Miyazaki’s female protagonists different from others is that first & foremost he treats them as real people. Miyazaki has previously stated that if there is no genuineness in any of your characters, no matter how strange or fantastical, then the audience will not connect with them. So in creating characters such as San (Princess Mononoke) or Chihiro (Spirited Away) or even Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service) he starts with them as being real girls who go on a journey to find a lost connection. With San it’s her lost humanity, Chihiro is her lost sense of spirituality & Kiki has to discover her own confidence. Such journeys can be see in all of his female protagonists & why they appeal so much to an audience is that they start the narrative with a solid grounding in reality. Be it a physical place that they are removed from or the necessities of the “Hero’s Journey” that pushes them into adventure, Miyazaki always attempts to make them as real as possible, even with the limitations of narrative need.

Both fan & academics argue as to why he puts so much emphasis on female protagonists over traditional male ones. One reason can be given in that it comes from the influences of such stories as Alice In Wonderland & the works of authors like le Guin & Diana Wynne Jones (who wrote the original novel of Howl’s Moving Castle) all of whom put female characters at the centre of their narratives.

The other reason is because he wishes to challenge many traditional Japanese societal values; the role of women being primary amongst them.

This stems from the belief that post WWII, women in narrative were seen as an echo of the nation itself: fragile & in need of support because they were beset by trauma outside of themselves.

Where as Miyazaki has female protagonists beset by issues but never needed to be protected from them. That is because they are able to draw on their own inner strength as well as the strength of the people around them &, by extension, the further community as well. Such as with Sheeta from Luputa receiving support & encouragement to emotionally grow from the pirate Dota & her sons.

This sort of narrative & character driven challenge reflects the other challenges that Miyazaki throws at society as a whole.

Many critics & academics often view Miyazaki and works as conservative & driven by feelings of nostalgia.

That could honestly not be further from the truth.

Miyazaki has regularly stated that he stands against ideas of false nostalgia or nostalgia for its own sake -such as the ones that the Japanese government has attempted to foster over the past 16 years. Miyazaki is someone who believes that true traditions, such as connection with the animist spirits of nature, should not be abandoned. Nor should people destroy themselves & the world through pointless aggression or to become slaves to the machines of Capitalism. What he & his works hark back to are notions of tradition but ones that are known globally.

He says that modernity should not come at the cost of nature, our spirituality or community but he also believes that there is no sin in using technology. His use of aircraft & other forms of mechanisation & engines is proof enough of that. His belief is that technology must be a positivist things, free of aggression or destructive potential. It is not technoloy that is evil, just those who wield it.

This too can be seen in the animation style of both Miyazaki & Studio Ghibli.

Many people have criticised Miyazaki’s non-use of CGI as being that of a man being afraid of technology & modernity but that could not be further from the truth.

It is a two fold approach founded in very simple concepts.

Firstly: that of expression. The belief being that reliance of CGI strips the magic an audience can take from watching the nuances of the image play upon the screen. That it removes that level of the suspension of disbelief & thus a sense of wonder. Especially in regards to the fine detail of characters’ expression & how an audience can read & relate to them. Studio Ghibli is known for the quality & depth of their expressions & this leads directly into the second point.

Which is, secondly: it is a form of branding. A way of setting up a form of animation authenticity to distinguish the works of Studio Ghibli from those of other production houses such as Gainax (creators of the Neon Gensis Evangelion franchise) & even Disney. By using traditional animation techniques & bringing them up to a level of CGI productions Studio Ghibli is engaging in a form of branding & one-upmanship with other studios.

This can even in his final production, The Wind Rises, which starts in Japan at the turn of the 20th century & goes to the start of World War 2; as it tells the story of airplane designer Jiro & his fate to build an instrument of war in the Zero fighter.

It could be seen as nostalgia ladden & denying the atrocities of the past -as it has actually been accused of being- but more it should be seen as brilliant art unto itself.

The acme of animation as rendered by a man so meticulous that he does everything from the script to the storyboards to sitting with individual scene animators in order to explain to him his vision of the film.

When all is said & done & Miyazaki Hayao has passed from this Mortal Coil, that is what we shall be left with.

His incredible eye for detail & exceptional style of storytelling that shall continue to beguile & inspire countless animators, writers, directors & audiences.

Not only to work better at the own art but to work better at being better people.

His is the heart that lingers & the compassion to give his al for his audience, even if it is tinted by his own passions & experiences. Yet it is a passion that is infectious & it shall go throughout the ages as a glorious legacy of compassion, spiritual, modernity & wonder that none in our current age will ever be able to match.

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