Introduction to Hayao Miyazaki

“I want to create something captivating” (Miyazaki, 1996, p. 47)

“I want to send a message of cheer to all those wandering aimlessly through life” (Miyazaki 1996, p. 51)

According to Napier (2005) Hayao Miyazaki is “Japan’s most famous animated film director” (p. 152). McCarthy (1999) stated that Miyazaki is the “modern master of animation” (p. 215) who personally checks every frame of his films and redraws anything that he does not think is suitable.Though the number of books on Hayao Miyazaki is continually growing there is a need to perform a more up to date analysis of the films of arguably one of the most respected and loved animation directors of this century.

Hayao Miyazaki is an auteur – a director whose personal vision or style is reflected in the film. Miyazaki “not only draws characters and storyboards for the films he directs; he also writes the rich, strange screenplays, which blend Japanese mythology with modern psychological realism. He is, in short, an auteur of children’s entertainment” (Talbot, 2005). As an auteur “Miyazaki’s films are either original stories or his own adaptations of fairly obscure works” (Talbot, 2005). Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is based off the manga (Japanese comic) by Monkey Punch; Howl’s Moving Castle is an adaptation of the book by Diana Wynne Jones; and Kiki’s Delivery Service is based on the children’s book by Kadono Eiko. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Porco Rosso, and Ponyo are Miyazaki’s own creations; the first of which was a manga that ran from 1982 to 1994.

The first thing that sets a Miyazaki film apart from other animated films is that it is handcrafted. According to Miyazaki (1993) “I am a director who actually draws animation”.  This animator relies on pencils, pens and paintbrushes rather than computer animation (Cavallaro, 2006, p. 3) to make each film “as gorgeous as it can be” (Talbot, 2005). “Miyazaki is an old-fashioned artist who has rejected the computerized path that many animation studios… all his characters and backgrounds be drawn by hand”, however he sometime uses computer graphics in his films (Talbot, 2005). One way to tell that the films are hand drawn is by the intense colors. Take for example Kiki’s dress, which has a hint of plum (Talbot 2005) instead of being straight black which would come from computer software. Miyazaki’s backgrounds are “full of painterly flourishes”, with the sky and sea saturated in strangely emotional blues (Talbot, 2005) that also could only be painted by hand.

Hayao Miyazaki was born in the Bunakyo-oh district of Tokyo on January 5, 1941. His father, Katsugi Miyazaki, worked for Miyazaki Airplane, Katsugi and his brother (the owner of Miyazaki Airplane) made rudders that were used on Kamakazi planes (Cavallaro, 2006) as well as other parts for fighter planes. Hayao Miyazaki’s love for flying machines and aviation came from the fact that his family worked on airplanes. His mother, Dola Miyazaki, was sick with spinal tuberculosis, which caused them to move around a lot, seeking the best medical attention they could. Dola was bedridden from 1947 to 1955 and was hospitalized from 1947 to 1949 (McCarthy, 1999). Dola was a freethinker and encouraged her sons to question things and be skeptical (traits that most Miyazaki protagonists possess); Miyazaki is a self-proclaimed pessimist (Miyazaki, 2002). Dola Miyazaki was courageous, energetic, and autonomous, which is probably why Hayao Miyazaki’s female characters are as well (Cavallaro, 2006).

Hayao Miyazaki lived during a turbulent time in Japan post World War II, the land was devastated and people were hungry. It was also a time of US occupation; Miyazaki went to an American influenced elementary school (McCarthy, 1999). Miyazaki and his family lived in the countryside; as such Hayao unlike many children did not have to face the horrors of the war (Cavallaro, 2006). As a child Miyazaki enjoyed manga and wanted to become a comic book artist. He started drawing machines (airplanes, tanks, battleships) in high school and his role model was Osamu Tezuka.

In 1958 Hayao Miyazaki started to attend Gakushuin University where he studied political science and economics. While at university Miyazaki was a member of the children’s literature research society. As a member of the children’s literature research society Miyazaki was exposed to many western authors, Greek and Norse mythology, western folklore and fairytales, and the Bible (Cavallaro, 2006; McCarthy, 1999). In 1963 Miyazaki graduated from Gakushuin and got a job at Toei Doga, where he started as an in-betweener.

In time Hayao Miyazaki became a key animator, scene designer, and storyboard artist. While at Toei Doga Miyazaki meet Isao Takahata, they became friends, and have collaborated ever since. In 1971 Miyazaki left Toei and went to work at A-Pro with Takahata. And in 1973 the two of them moved on to work at Nippon Animation. In 1969 Miyazaki started to draw manga for a children’s paper, he continued to do manga for magazines and papers until the 1990s. “Like Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki started his professional career drawing animation cels and rose to head an independent cartoon empire” (Talbot, 2005).

In 1985 Miyazaki and Takahata became co-founders of Studio Ghibli. The studio was created to produce high quality features (Cavallaro, 2006) that never compromised on the quality or content (Suzuki, 1995). In the early 1990’s Miyazaki designed the new studio building, “he drew the first blueprint, chose materials, met with builders, and checked every detail personally” (McCarthy, 1999, p. 45).  The studio has a small car park and big bike lot in order to encourage staff to bike to work instead of driving, which conveys Miyazaki’s environmental position (Cavallaro, 2006). The studio also has a roof top garden, which was designed by one of Miyazaki’s sons, where the staff is encouraged to rest and recharge (Talbot, 2005).

Hayao Miyazaki also designed the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka with its spiral staircase, causeways, galleries, wrought iron railings, doors of all shape and sizes, stained glass windows and ceiling fans made from airplane propellers (Cavallaro, 2006). “The museum showcases not only the visual splendor of Miyazaki’s films but also what inspires them: … a sense of wonder about the natural world; a fascination with flight; a curiosity about miniature or hidden realms” (Talbot, 2005).

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