In the world of Japanese cinema, there is a certain internationally famous Japanese director who is considered to be something of a modern legend of cinematic animation around the world today. He is the creative and prolific film maker known as Hayao Miyazaki. Known for his amazing portfolio of spectacular animated films, Miyazaki continues to delight audiences movie after movie. Named one of the world’s “100 most influential people” by Time Magazine in 2005, and one of the “most influential Asians of the past 60 years” by the magazine a year later, it is rather obvious that Mr. Miyazaki has a rather vast audience. He is such a skillful, creative, and prolific director that many feel he is as though a modern Walt Disney, yet it is possible that even Disney himself would be impressed by Miyazaki’s unique style of creativity.
Miyazaki has been a well known director in Japan for much longer than he has been popular in the western world. His more recent movies are, rather notably, quite full of aspects of Japanese culture which have been given a thoroughly fanciful Miyazaki treatment. The mythical spirits of Japan’s animistic belief systems, in particular, are one of the film maker’s favorite subjects. This apparently allows Miyazaki’s imagination to happily frolic through a magical spirit world and then invite the audience to join him on his journey. In 1997, Miyazaki’s first movie to be commercially released in the west was a film of this kind, known as “Princess Mononoke”. His first Academy Award was also won for another animated movie heavily based on Japanese animism, which was aptly titled “Spirited Away”. It was reportedly the first ever Academy Award won by a Japanese “anime”style movie.
Another common theme evident in a lot of Miyazaki’s work is a love and appreciation of nature. Japanese mysticism is often interrelated with nature and the aforementioned “Princess Mononoke”is a wonderful example of an ecologically conscious movie which uses Miyazaki’s interpretation of traditional Japanese spirituality to imbue the audience with a renewed love and appreciation for nature. Another attribute common in many Miyazaki movies is the many brave and strong female characters who often show a rather unshakable determination which usually leads to their success. Miyazaki reportedly harbors what may be considered somewhat feminist ideals in certain parts of the world, although it is likely that equality is ultimately more the purpose of his character portrayals.
Another progressive aspect of many Miyazaki films is that any characters that may be deemed as villains are often given background or traits that give insight to their motivations and moral conundrums. A character may be caring on one scale, yet missing a bigger picture in which they may be doing a greater disservice on a larger scale. A perfect example combining all of these recurrent Miyazaki themes is a woman in the movie “Princess Mononoke” who is strong and focused on the success of a factory town she has started, in part, to help a group of people who she felt needed her help. In this way she is a noble character, yet she helps the people while polluting and destroying the forest and natural habitat around the town. In this way she misses the greater picture and the greater good, but Miyazaki presents it in such a way to still make her an endearing character whose motivations may well be noble.
Not only are Miyazaki’s films wonderfully written, but also visually spectacular. His many movies often feature delightful character designs and magical effects. If you have not already seen a Miyazaki film, be sure to do so. You will likely want to see many more after.