Hayao Miyazaki is an academy award winning motion picture film director specializing in animation. His career spans from 1965 all the way to the current date and his works have influenced two generations of animation filmmakers all over the world. His style could best be described as fantastical surrealism, in that most of his works stem out of some fantastical story design, but are surrealized by his depiction of characters through honest emotions. He has worked in the field of animation for more than sixty years and has achieved international acclaim for being one of the best anime films maker and storyteller.
In the 1970s he co-founded Studio Ghibli along with Isao Takahata, a film and animation studio, his films were successful that it was compared with some of the best American animators like Walt Disney, also the American director Steven Spielberg.
Hayao Miyazaki was born on January 5th, 1941 in Akebono-cho in Bunkyō, Tokyo Japan and the second of four sons. His father as aircraft aeronautical engineer for Japan during the second world war, and although Miyazaki and his mother remained very anti-war, it would later shape his filmography and the stories he would create later on.
Growing up Miyazaki would often bounce around from school to school because of his father’s numerous contracts. The Miyazaki family would have to move all over Japan making the early years of Miyazaki’s life somewhat unsteady, and although he has stated that because of his father’s career he led a much more privileged childhood than what most to be considered.
We can see how him always moving around as a kid would influence his work in Spirited Away, when Jiro (our protagonist) is complaining in the car about not wanting to move. In the very first scene right out of the gate Miyazaki implements of piece of himself into the story, and would often do this more often than not in the latter half of his career. He attended Gakushuin University just outside of Tokyo Japan where he obtained an economics degree. After watching an animated movie called Boy Wonder, Miyazaki became inspired to pursue a career in animation after realizing the possibility of the emotional weight and depictions that animation had to offer, that wasn’t being explored at this time.
He then went on to become a Manga Artist and story board designer at Toei animation where he met fellow filmmaker and future collaborator Isao Takahata. In 1963, he was from then on involved in the production of the “early classics of Japanese animation” such as The Adventures of Hols, Prince of the Sun (1968) and Panda! Go Panda! (1972). From the beginning, he commanded attention with his incredible ability to draw, and the seemingly-endless stream of movie ideas he proposed. He quickly worked his way up the ranks at Toei animation and this would open up doors to direct other projects. He served as a storyboard artist to Takahata, but after a number of years creatively the two started to go into different directions.
Together with his colleague Isao Takahata, who would also become a renowned director of animated movies, Miyazaki then moved to studio A Pro and later Tokyo Movie Shinsha, were he worked on scene design and scene organization for Heidi and then became director for Future Boy Conan and Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. In 1984 Miyazaki released Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, which he wrote and directed. It was primarily based on the manga series with the same title he started working on in 1982. Miyazaki always had the feeling that he would like to have more freedom in elaborating his own thoughts. With Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind becoming a great success, Miyazaki perceived this as a chance to start his own animation studio. The result was that, in 1985, he co-founded Studio Ghibli.
After several years at working at Toei animation, Miyazaki was convinced it was about time he started to directed animated features. Hayao Miyazaki’s skill in drawing, storytelling and directing had become very much so obvious during his time at Toei-Doga and he became a true master of his own craft. His work at Studio Ghibli can however be considered to show his true, and full, talent. Including the the motion pictures he released before launching studio Ghibli. Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind tells us a story about a princess, Nausicaä, in a world that is tangled in war and destruction. In an adventurous struggle, Nausicaä tries to save this world and its last remnants of human population from self-destructing and from an alarming spread of a mysterious disease. I’m going to list off a series of his most notable works with plot descriptions next to them.
In Laputa: The Castle in the Sky a boy rescues an unconscious girl with a glowing pendant around here neck that he sees descending from the sky, and in doing so they embark on a dangerous journey to a kingdom on a floating island in the sky. My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service seem to be made for a child audience especially, the former being about children encountering a forest spirit and becoming friends with it, the latter being about a 13 year old witch who has to learn how to live independently. “Made for a child audience” in Miyazaki’s case does not mean that these are exclusively interesting for children. Adults, mostly parents, seem to enjoy these movies for their near-perfect reflection of the behavior of children. “For the people who used to be 10 years old, and the people who are going to be 10 years old.” as Miyazaki said about one of his later movies, Spirited Away.
Porco Rosso, in contrast explores a mix of more serious themes, such as war and fascism, with Miyazaki’s fascination with pigs, as an Italian Air Force pilot leaves service due to the rise of fascism and becomes a bounty hunter. Losing faith in humanity and due to conflicts in his mind, the pilot becomes a pig. Miyazaki believes that “when a man becomes middle-aged, he becomes a pig” . Princess Mononoke truly started the era of Miyazaki’s international fame. Being the most expensive animated movie in Japan at the time, the investment paid of as it became the number one movie of all time in Japan, both in attendance and in financial profit. Princess Mononoke is set in Japan during the Muromachi Period Princess Mononoke tells us the story of a boy, named Ashitaka, from a local tribe who gets cursed by killing a spirit.
On his journey to lift this curse, he gets tangled up in a struggle between an iron-making community and Gods of the Forest. He wants both sides to co-exist peacefully. On the side of Gods of the Forest, Ashitaka meets a girl named San Princess Mononoke, who is raised by wolves and with whom he shares a special bond. What makes a Miyazaki movie a Miyazaki movie, is the way in which he depicts human emotion and his technical superiority. Miyazaki checks almost all keyframes made by his team of animators at Studio Ghibli of the movie he is working on and even redraws them if he thinks that is necessary. Usually this is done by a special technical director, not the director of the movie.
Note: a frame is a still background image with an image on a transparent sheet derived from celluloid, the material these sheets used to be made of on top of it. The image is then replaced with a slightly different image to create animation. Miyazaki hand draws every single frame on the storyboard himself, so when given to the other artist at Studio Ghibli he expects quite a lot out of them in their work. He has been noted as being a director is very hard on his employees but doubly hard on himself. In one instance when one of the artist told Miya-San that he didn’t know how to draw the Zero plan in the Wind Rises, he told the artist to quit. Because the number one thing that’s most important for him isn’t that you even get the work done, it’s that you’re supposed to be doing what you want, and that’s one of his major philosophies, is if you’re not doing what you want in life. What most people interpreted as the end of Miyazaki’s career, he himself did not.
Although he formally quit working for Studio Ghibli in 1998, he was still planning to write and produce a movie to be directed by Studio Ghibli’s Yoshifumi Kondo. In 1999 Miyazaki formally returned to Studio Ghibli, and started work on a movie inspired by the daughter of one of his friends. In 2001, Miyazaki finished Spirited Away. Breaking all the box-office records he himself set with Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away added definite international recognition to its list by winning a Golden Bear at the 2002 Berlin Film Festival, and the 2002 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. This was the first Oscar awarded to a Japanese animation production. He is known to dislike interviews, and does his best to stay away from them.
From the few interviews available and from interviews with his colleagues, you can tell that he isn’t too optimistic about the future in general, and there’s plenty of reason not to be. This is interesting, as his movies are not pessimistic at all. On the contrary, almost all of his movies offer a glimpse of hope. In Spirited Away, for example, Chihiro “survives” her ordeal by not complaining and getting on with it. In Howl’s Moving Castle the girl in the body of an elderly lady, Sophie, stays strong and in the end turns into herself again, not by becoming younger, but by accepting who she is and what she can do.