Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hayao Miyazaki's Legacy

By Alex Gilmartin
In the world of animation, there are few who are as highly respected as renowned director Hayao Miyazaki. A Japanese director who makes animated films, Miyazaki is best known for films such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Considered the Japanese Walt Disney, Miyazaki’s films are among the most visually stunning any audience could experience.

Hayao Miyazaki first got his start in 1979, when he directed the film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. But his first major hit was his anti-war film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which reflect his own pacifistic views. Miyazaki would go onto co-found Studio Ghibli, which is widely considered one of the best animation companies in all of Japan.

Like any director, Miyazaki has his own themes he conveys through his films; the most common of these themes being flight. Miyazaki believes, as humans, that flight is liberating. This theme appears in nearly all of his films, most notably in Kiki’s Delivery Service, which tells the story of a young girl who can fly. Another common theme of Miyazaki’s is childhood and children. Nearly all of Miyazaki’s protagonists are children or at the very least youths. Miyazaki believes that childhood is a time when "you're protected by your parents and unaware of the problems around you.”

In what is possibly his most iconic film, My Neighbor Totaro, the children are able to see a fantastical world while the adults are not. And Spirited Away deals with growing up in a world where good and evil are constantly battling. Miyazaki has expressed concern towards the children of today and their reliance on the virtual world and tends to model the children in his films after children near him who wish to understand the world.

His environmental nature is also reflected in many of his works. But unlike many other environmental message films, Miyazaki does not hammer in his messages, but rather lets the viewer see and feel nature through the eyes of the characters. In Princess Mononoke, the film tackles nature vs. man. But instead of villainizing man, Miyazaki weights the pros and cons of battling nature. Ultimately, the spirit of nature is destroyed and the humans must work to preserve what is left for the sake of the future.

But what may be Miyazaki’s most fascinating theme is good and evil. While Miyazaki’s early works have clear-cut villains in them, his later works have no true villain. While there are some antagonistic forces at play, they’re never evil. Spirited Away is a film about co-existing with good and evil as opposed to destroying evil. And Kiki’s Delivery Service has no antagonist at all. The film’s heroine is strong enough to engage viewers with her own journey to adulthood. Though Miyazaki is by no means an optimist, he prefers to show children a brighter side of the world.

Miyazaki is called a feminist by his coworkers. Many, if not all, of his films have female leads. Miyazaki’s female characters are not damsels in distress either. They are all strong, likeable, and fun characters that a viewer can like easily. In his films, there are workplaces filled with strong women doing all of the work, where normally one would assume the men would work. Miyazaki flips the tables on conventional gender roles common in Japanese culture and put women at the head.

Miyazaki has been directing for thirty four years and has announced that his latest film, The Wind Rises, will be his last, retiring at the age of seventy-two. Miyazaki believes it is time for him to step down and allow a new generation of talented animators to step up and make new films. He also finds that the work that goes into animation is quiet strenuous, especially for a man at his age. Though, fellow Studio Ghibli animator Isao Takahata has said that Miyazaki’s retirement may be non-permanent: "I think there is a decent chance that may change. I think so, since I've known him a long time. Don't be at all surprised if that happens."

Hayao Miyazaki is quite possibly the most famous animator since Walt Disney himself, and though his retirement saddens many of his loyal fans, they are grateful for a treasure trove of inspiring films.

Alex Gilmartin is a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas College studying to become a writer. He is a fan of animation in all forms and enjoys analyzing different shows and movies. He has an identical twin who shares his interest. In his spare time, Alex and his brother Ted make parodies on the Internet.

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