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Chihiro sits with the spirit, No Face, on the train in Spirited Away

There aren’t many words that I can put together that will describe my affection for the work of Hayao Miyazaki. I remember when I was a kid, I adored his films without really knowing it. Kiki’s Delivery Service was a staple of my childhood viewing but I think what changed me was when I first came across Spirited Away. I was younger and for the life of me can’t remember why we decided to watch it but we did. It was odd because I wasn’t getting the themes I should’ve from this film but hey save me some face I was like seven. The weird thing was that, in all the misunderstanding, something deep inside me liked it, I just couldn’t accept it yet. Fast forward years later when I started to re-visit the films of Miyazaki after I kind of went down a nostalgia trip with them. I popped Spirited Away in and was immediately transformed back into that kid again but this time I was gaining even more of a perspective on how meaningful this film was, it was in one word, a masterpiece.

I truly does sadden me that Miyazaki has finally decided to retire after all this time and while some may still budge at that announcement, I truly believe he does stop. Part of the sadness is that I will miss seeing new work from him but mostly I am sad because we are losing one of the most imaginative minds not only in animation but in film.

While Spirited Away is the film that revere to be his finest, the rest of his work is unparalleled as well. If I had to make a top five list of my personal favorites it would go Spirited Away, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Porco Rosso. That being said, each of his films touches me and makes me love it. He didn’t direct it but Whisper of the Heart has become one of my favorite all-time Ghibli films based on Miyazaki’s writing. He has a knack, a skill, to build these worlds and he makes sure to do that first before truly introducing the character. In the case of Whisper of the Heart, he builds a world within an already real world location, that location being Tokyo. He crafts this world of wonder and hidden adventure for our hero, Shizuku. The funny thing in this case is that she really isn’t a hero per say but a normal person having an adventure in the constraints of normal life.

Shizuku stands with Seiji in Whisper of the Heart

This craft that Miyazaki has mastered is incredible. He knows that first you must build the world and then put the people, story in it to make it a great story in the end. The same happens in Kiki’s Delivery Service. He follows that similar method of creating a world but in real world parameters. This time it is based off of real cities rather than taking place in an actual city. But like Whisper of the Heart, he builds the world first before diving into the issues of Kiki. We enter the city and learn of all its mysteries, its nooks and crannies, and the people before about halfway through the film we finally get to the issue plaguing Kiki.

The great thing though is that while Miyazaki won’t be personally making films, his trademark will be felt in many places. The obvious first place will be with other Studio Ghibli properties, most notably with their most recent effort, From Up on Poppy Hill. While this was directed by his son, Goro, the Miyazaki-ness could be felt all over from the location to the story to the lead character. Miyazaki knew how to craft great female leads. I found that apparent while viewing Spirited Away last night for the millionth time. Chihiro is a fantastic female lead. She is weak and defenseless when she first comes to the bath house but as the film progresses and more challenges are presented to her, she gets stronger and finally by the end is completely different and able to fight her own fight. To add onto that, she still has a man who she loves but that doesn’t define her and when she leaves the bath house she leaves with them knowing her as the girl who accomplished so much rather than as Haku’s girlfriend.

This is a trait that still lacks in cinema today with female character being written so blandly and without any conviction. Miyazaki knew how to portray girls and that child-like wonder better than anyone and hopefully this will be found more in films both animated and not.

To end this, I want to say how much he brings to animation. Just look at Pixar and chief John Lasseter, a friend of Miyazaki. His films carry those same ideals and traits. Look at one of the more recent Pixar films, Brave, which has a lead character that is female and is not being defined by regular traits or a man. Wonder where that came from? Miyazaki has contributed so much to film through his works that it is hard to truly thank him through one post. But as one fan to him I want to thank him for giving the gift of his imagination that challenges any other par none.

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4 thoughts on “Miyazaki, Animation, and that sense of Child-like wonder

  1. I actually caught Mononoke at Downtown West. Before Miramax brought it over, virtually no one cared about Miyazaki in the US. Back in the early-mid 90s, the only Miyazaki available in the US were the Fox Kids edition of Totoro and the mangled version of Nausicaa (“Warriors of the Wind”, I think). Everyone had to rely on copies of copies of copies of someone’s original fansub.

    It’s a shame that the west has never fully embraced him, because his films are largely more humanistic than “Japanese”. Even today, now that he’s more popular, people tend to denigrate his work as being from “the JAPANESE Walt Disney” (when that appellation sorta implies that he’s their version of our treasure). Who knows? Maybe everyone’ll figure it out in 20 more years.

  2. I also love Miyazaki films. I thought My Neighbor Totoro would be a favorite in your top 5. It is such an innocent anime that brings memories of my childhood.

    The first film that I watched was Howl’s Moving Castle which was lent to me by a friend. The anime was interesting because I had an interest in anime. I think people who watch animation will eventually like Miyazaki’s works. There is a lot of cartoons that are Japanese style because Japan had a better grasp of animation.

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