Hayao Miyazaki’s Top 2 Japanese Anime Films that collectively earned ‎¥50 billion and 1 Oscar (Part 1)

Hayao Miyazaki-The visionary director

“Logic is using the front part of the brain, that’s all. But you can’t make a film with logic. Or if you look at it differently, everybody can make a film with logic. But my way is to not use logic.”

― Hayao Miyazaki

Credits AMPAS

Hayao Miyazaki (宮崎 駿, Miyazaki Hayao) is a world-renowned director of Japanese anime feature films. He founded Studio Ghibli where he sought to produce and direct the kind of movies he wanted. Ghibli has collaborated with Disney to release his movies in the west as English dubbed versions.  His movies Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime) and Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) were both adopted by Disney and turned out to be massive hits, collectively earning around ¥50 billion! Spirited Away went on to be the first Japanese anime to ever win an Academy Award for the best-animated feature film in 2003. He is one of those who redefine the genre that they exist in and in that pursuit succeed in making that genre larger than before.  Interestingly, he did not attend the Oscars the year Spirited Away won, because he was against the invasion of Iraq by the USA.

The art form of Japanese anime has existed for over a century, but what did Miyazaki do differently? Miyazaki treated the art form with respect and considered the technique of hand-drawn anime to be of considerable heritage to the genre. Miyazaki begins the humanization of his characters through the purely visual means of character movement. Beginning his career as a Manga artist, he was influenced by a style known as ‘Gekiga’ – a form of Manga akin to more serious storytelling and as a result more realistic drawings.

Much like Charlie Chaplin, who in the era of the talkies, still strived to create silent films, as he felt his style was more of a mime artist. Chaplin still had to give in to the talkies phenomenon by including background scores and even a speech in The Great Dictator which led to him being branded as a communist and face exile. Miyazaki, too, had to incorporate CGI in his art form but had a strict rule to only have a small portion of his film to have CGI. Unlike Chaplin, Miyazaki has proven that his style, will never go out of style.

His way of writing scripts is unique, as he never writes them out beforehand! Instead, he storyboards keyframes of his movies and ‘writes’ the story while storyboarding itself. He believes that there are certain emotions and experiences that cannot be written down. So much so that he has at times worked on all 144000 frames of his movies himself along with his animators! Miyazaki’s animations aren’t about their external flair, but their internal subtleties. Miyazaki’s foundations for his films are found through empathy and reality. Empathy captured by the audience self-projection on the characters and reality through the honest depiction of the unpredictability of people’s lives. What makes a Miyazaki film, a Miyazaki film is the emotional element.

Miyazaki’s films usually have common themes among them, including the typical struggle between good and evil, environmentalism, and politics. The protagonists are usually strong, independent girls or young women and the villains are typically uncertain in nature with redeeming qualities.  One key director trait is his fascination with ‘flying’ – be it dragons, WWII planes, humans, or just the camera panning through the clouds. Also, he adds minutiae of human details in scenes, which help the audience connect with the character – simple things like tapping your shoes while wearing them or even spending a silent moment alone with the character, are trademarks that make his work more humane. He often uses his own life experiences to achieve this. This is sometimes a stark contrast to the popular perception of anime being violent, action-heavy and unrealistic.

The two movies talked about, both had female leads and entered a fantastical world filled with concepts that were so relatable to humanity and basic emotions.

“Many of my movies have strong female leads — brave, self-sufficient girls that don’t think twice about fighting for what they believe in with all their heart. They’ll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a savior. Any woman is just as capable of being a hero as any man.”

― Hayao Miyazaki



Princess Mononoke
The natural world vs. modern industrial civilization

Hayao Miyazaki was almost unknown in the West until the release of Princess Mononoke in 1997.

Credits: Studio Ghibli

While protecting his village from rampaging boar-god/demon, a confident young warrior, Ashitaka, is stricken by a deadly curse. To save his life, he must journey to the forests of the west. Once there, he’s embroiled in a fierce campaign that humans were waging on the forest. The ambitious Lady Eboshi and her loyal clan use their guns against the gods of the forest and a brave young woman, Princess Mononoke, who was raised by a wolf-god. Ashitaka sees the good in both sides and tries to stem the flood of blood. This is met by animosity by both sides as they each see him as supporting the enemy.”

― Storyline by IMDb

The visual appeal of this movie is immense. It is filled with natural settings and characters that are supernatural. It showcases forest spirits, the village life of Japan, talking animals, a princess of the forest, a character who employs lepers and prostitutes to build an iron production ecosystem and more! The plot at its core is about humanity and the dual nature of good and evil. No character in the movie is shown to be completely good or evil and their character arcs change depending on contexts and situations. This is one of the beautiful aspects of this movie, including the technique used, which included the CGI effects for the spirit of the forest (as shown below).

Credits: Studio Ghibli

There cannot be a happy ending to the fight between the raging gods and humans. However, even in the middle of hatred and killings, there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting, or a beautiful thing can exist. We depict hatred, but it is to depict that there are more important things. We depict a curse, to depict the joy of liberation. What we should depict is, how the boy understands the girl, and the process in which the girl opens her heart to the boy. At the end, the girl will say to the boy, “I love you, Ashitaka. But I cannot forgive humans.” Smiling, the boy should say, “That is fine. Live with me.

― Hayao Miyazaki

To be continued in part-2 


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