Ode to Miyazaki
I don’t remember a time in my life where Hayao Miyazaki wasn’t present. Being a young adult/children’s writer probably has a lot to do with my nostalgia for films from my childhood, yet Miyazaki’s films stand apart in many ways. In fact, they’re actually kind of perfect.
Not unlike Kurosawa or even Almodovar, Miyazaki’s films have layers upon layers to unravel. And for animated films, that’s pretty remarkable. Not to say that Pixar films, early Disney, or other animated films aren’t at times deep and wonderful, but Miyazaki is special—at least for me.
I had a single ticket to see Spirited Away at The Aero in Santa Monica this weekend, but those plans fell through due to my mother’s unhappy stomach and my daughterly duties to stand by and make soup for her. So as a compromise for missing it, I busted out my own DVD copy. We watched, we laughed, we got a little teary eyed, and then I noticed something… At certain points in the movie, memories of inspiration surged up. For example, when Chihiro enters the train, I realized it was there, in that moment, that a story I wrote in high school had manifested. Something about the quiet of the train and the faceless spirits Chihiro sits with, the somber piano in the background as a watery Japanese countryside passes us by—that shit gets to you.
What’s kind of awesome about Miyazaki is many of his films are directed at different age groups—yet at the end of the day, at any age, you can appreciate the mastery of these films. This is because his themes are universal. I remember hearing he was surprised that American audiences were so interested in his films because his main theme usually has to do with the grandeur of nature over machine. They are very Thoreau meets Emerson. Yet in his film (and my personal favorite) Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki deals with nature vs. humans in a way that is compelling to both sides. In that film in particular, he doesn’t hit you over the head with what he feels is the correct answer. In all of him films, greed is the biggest evil—and gluttony (which I think he sees as a kind of greed) is never painted pretty.
These are gorgeous, compelling, and very often bizarre films. Sometimes they are set in fantastical made-up places—sometimes it’s present-day Japan, or several hundred years ago. All of his films have magic, but it usually exists in a way where the characters are already comfortable with it. Kiki’s Delivery Service takes place in the present day and the main character is a witch—and we go with it, no questions asked. Miyazaki’s movies are often coming-of-age stories, which allow the heroine a chance to grow in a way where both she and the audience gain something beyond what was missing before.
“I felt this country only offered such things as crushes and romance to 10-year-old girls… and looking at my young friends, I felt this was not what they held dear in their hearts, not what they wanted. And so I wondered if I could make a movie in which they could be heroines…” – Hayao Miyazaki
The quote above is something to keep in mind. Most of Miyazaki’s heroes are female. He makes movies that allow women to possess roles that move beyond standard love stories—and when there is love involved, it’s deep, and painted in a way more complicated than your average girl meets boy.
I am so grateful to this man for the movies he has made over the years. He is certainly one of my biggest influences when it comes to writing for young people. I mean, I have a soft spot for certain Disney films, but at the end of the day, what did Walt ever give me? Disney pushes romance and man-hunting, but Miyazaki is beyond that. His movies are about love, and especially the love one has for one’s friends—and that’s a beautiful thing for anyone, especially a young girl or boy, to keep in mind.
A great Miyazaki interview : http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/interviews/sen.html
Sophia’s Recommended Miyazaki Films
- My Neighbor Totoro
- Princess Mononoke
- Spirited Away
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind