Beautiful scenes of nature, strong and independent protagonists, an incorporation of flight and a message highlighting the importance of love, family, and friends. All of these qualities and more are what one will experience when watching a film by Japanese animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is a truly inspirational artist who has accumulated an artistic style that can be recognized on a global scale. His films have become a part of many people’s childhood and continues to be a growing part of the animation industry through his studio, Studio Ghibli. He was born in Tokyo on January 5, 1941. He started his career in 1963 as an animator at the Toei Douga studio, and was also involved in many early classics of Japanese animation. From the beginning, he was capable of captivating audiences with his incredible drawing ability and the seemingly endless stream of movie ideas he proposed. While Miyazaki has had an outstanding list of films, three that remain in the hearts and minds of viewers include; Spirited Away, Princess Momonosuke, and My Neighbor Totoro.
Spirited Away was one of Miyazaki’s most riveting films that captured one of the largest audiences for a Miyazaki film. The film focused on the story of a young child who moves into a new town with her parents. Upon making a pit stop on the way, they encounter a large buffet which turns out to be food for spirits. After eating the food of the spirits the young child’s parents are turned into pigs; in which the child is forced to work in a bath house filled with different spirits and demons. While doing all of this she must also save her parents and return things to the way before. One major reason that this film attracted such a large audience was mainly because of the breathtaking artwork that had been shown throughout the movie. The dynamic scenes, colors, and effects brought forth the same “Miyazaki style” while also adding a certain mythology that had not yet been seen in any of his previous films. Much like all of Miyazaki’s films, spirited away includes and scene in which the protagonist is soaring through the sky. This is where he invigorates the viewer by engulfing them in this very scene. Another motion that is often recognized in Spirited Away, as well as many other films by Miyazaki, includes scenes of excitement or even shock from characters. Whenever a character experiences such emotions they’re hair often moves upward or shifts which adds to the overall effect as to how they may be feeling. Spirited Away also reflected Miyazaki’s love for children and was deemed as one of the best animated films of its times and grossed over millions of dollars. In accordance to a New York Times article, Spirited Away “made this spiritual world created by Miyazaki seem more real than the real world”.
In the mid-1990s, Studio Ghibli’s parent company, Tokuma, hit hard times. Fortunately the big box-office success in Japan of Kiki’s Delivery Service had attracted the attention of Disney; “Disney offered a deal that would relieve Tokuma of its financial burdens in exchange for the distribution rights worldwide—save in Southeast Asia—for motion pictures produced by Studio Ghibli” (referenceforbusiness.com). While Miyazaki had made a deal with Disney in the early to mid 1990’s, he was able to push his work to the next level by having his films be distributed by Disney, an extremely successful animation. Miyazaki then wrote the screenplay, drew an entire story board, and directed Princess Mononoke, a close second in terms of success to that of Spirited Away. He was criticized in the Japanese press for creating something that presumably no animated motion picture could accomplish. Which was the telling of a “grand epic on a massive scale”. When released in Japan in 1997, Princess Mononoke was a smash hit, surpassing the success of E.T. and setting a record in grossing over $150 million. The film was a major achievement by an artist and leader at the height of his powers. However, in the making of the film “Miyazaki may have already been losing his eyesight; he used computer animation extensively in the movie’s production, even though he very much preferred each cel to be hand-drawn” (referenceforbusiness.com). Princess Mononoke was the first of Miyazaki’s movies to attract a large American audience. The film included a strong female protagonist, which Miyazaki is well known for. It included dynamic scenery and enticing characters that drew the viewer in. His message on the importance of nature is also prevalent in many of his films, they usually include a dark force that destroys nature and another positive force that attempts to revive what has been destroyed. Such is evident in much of Princess Momonosuke and is even the main theme throughout the entire film.
Another major theme that is used throughout many of Miyazaki’s films is the importance of friendship and family and having a bond between those that that you care for. One of Miyazaki’s early films that is still looked at today is My Neighbor Totoro, which plays on this theme of friendship and family. The film portrays the early days of not only Studio Ghibli but of Miyazaki as well. The early days that included full animation rather than computer animated scenes. Many of which were hand painted and all done by Miyazaki himself. While the film almost brought about the death of Studio Ghibli, it is also renewed as one of the greatest children’s motion pictures ever made. Miyazaki saved My Neighbor Totoro with a canny marketing campaign for stuffed toys based on figures in the movie as well as a catch theme song; the figures caught on and were popular well into the 2000s. With its depiction of the real forest near where Miyazaki had lived while a boy, the film inspired an environmentalist movement in Japan. Characters from the movie became part of Studio Ghibli’s logo as well as symbols of the studio’s motion pictures. The artistic viewpoint of this film was spectacular and offered beautiful scenery and life like depictions of forest and wild life, while still upholding that anime feel to it as well.
As an overall artist Hayao Miyazaki is well ahead of his time and truly understands the nature of what it means to be an animator. His work earned him his title as the “Walt Disney of Japan”. He created a series of films that stand in their own unique category. His style as a whole is unique and continues to inspire upcoming artist. From his strong and outstanding protagonists, to his stunning backgrounds and scenery, to his themes and morals that continue to entertain people of all ages worldwide.