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Hayao Miyazaki

Diane M. Sattler, Ph.D.
11 Dec 2015

Today we'll enter the magical world of a famous Japanese anime artist and writer, movie screenwriter, producer and director. It's Hayao Miyazaki, who won an Academy award in 2002 for directing the best animated feature, "Spirited Away." Let's see what all the fuss is about, and explore some of his works. From graphics to characters to story lines, Miyazaki's works stand out, even in a field that has almost unlimited artistic accomplishments. His films look like paintings that have come alive, along with the animated characters who seem like folks we've known and captivating themes and tales.

Miyazaki was born in Tokyo and began his career in the same field, but far from what he'd later achieve. At the beginning, he was a children's cartoon animator who worked on such things as "Gulliver's Space Travels." He eventually rose to being the key animator and later began directing. The rest is part of Ghibli Studio's history.

Castle of Caligostro

Miyazaki's first feature directing attempt was this non-Ghibli Studio film. Many consider it the least of his works, which is not surprising, as he was just getting his feet wet as a director. He had previously directed a few episodes in an anime series, the same series this effort was based on. However, critics are relentless, and his early effort doesn't make it onto a list of his best efforts. The story line features a couple of guys robbing a Monte Carlo casino only to discover they were stuck with counterfeit money. They hook up with the Count Caligostro and go through a variety of trials and tribulations, and the show ends 100 minutes later.

Castle in the Sky

You may recognize elements of "Gulliver's Travels" in this visually stunning production. The stars of the story are Pazu, an apprentice engineer, and Sheeta, a young gal on a quest. Pazu first sees Sheeta as she's floating down from the sky, and he's immediately struck, not only by her presence, but by the mysterious, glowing pendant that hangs from her necklace. Well, theirs is a union (well, remember that this is PG rated) made in heaven, or at least they're seeking the castle in the sky, Laputa, together. Of course, their quest is fraught with peril and danger lurks everywhere in various objects and with a multitude of entities. The biggest foe is Muska, a wannabe world sovereign. He must be stopped.

Princess Mononoke

This 1997 story is set in medieval Japan where the main character, Ashitaka, lives in a remote village. The primitive environs provide opportunities for stunning visual scenery. As all young men are in that village, Ashitaka is a fighter, a warrior. What do they do in the off-season to maintain their skills? They hunt, and that's what Ashitaka was doing when he killed that fateful wild boar, unleashing a vile spirit. The good guys, the god of the forest and the spirits he protects, are threatened by this evil spirit unleashed by the unsuspecting warrior. Along the way, there is a large cast of interesting characters, which may be a bit hard to sort out and keep straight. When it was released in Japan, this film brought in more money than any other at that time. The English version of this movie is dubbed with famous vocal talent and was released by Disney Studios with a rating of PG-13.

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

An apocalyptic global war poisoned the jungles that covered almost all of the Earth. That setting provided a perfect environment for the robust insects that guard it. One of the last safe spots on Earth that was untouched with poison and unoccupied by the monster insects is the Valley of the Wind. A young princess in the valley, Nausicca, seeks to overcome overwhelming odds against the enormous mutant insects to save the planet. This imaginative 1984 PG production, called by some an "epic masterpiece," was based on Miyazaki's original earlier 80s manga work by the same name.

Ponyo

The stars of this 2008 G-rated show are different. One is a five-year old boy, Sosuke, and the other is Ponyo, a goldfish who's been, well, living in the sea. That is, until Sosuke rescues her. As they journey together, their bond strengthens into love and Ponyo magically transforms into being human. That did not please her father one little bit, and he's a force to be reckoned with. After all, Ponyo is the result of the pairing of Gran Mamare and her alchemist husband, Fujimoto, and when he's ticked off, everyone knows it. He performs sorcery and causes a gigantic storm, but his magical interventions fail because of Ponyo's strong feelings for Sosuki. The most memorable scene in a movie of moving scenes is when she runs across the tops of the waves to find her way back to her true love. Bring out the tissues. The English Disney production essentially is a retelling of "The Little Mermaid," the beloved classic by Hans Christian Anderson.

Kiki's Delivery Service

This 1989 prize winning anime film, directed and produced by Miyazaki, was based on another Japanese writer's coming to age novel by the same name. In that era in Japan, there was a significant disconnect for young girls between their reliance on others and their need and desire for independence. This film addresses that issue, as Kiki, a plucky but headstrong 13-year-old witch, makes her own way in life decides to make her own way in life by using her ability to fly. She gets a job delivering goods on her broomstick around her new home, a seaside village in Europe.

Wouldn't you know it, her first delivery goes awry. Wind gusts blow the black cat toy she's supposed to deliver off the broomstick and sends it reeling to the ground. All is not lost, as her very accommodating pet, a black cat named Jiji, agrees to be a stand-in for the broken toy until it can be repaired. You can predict that young romance will blossom during the story, and it did in the form of Tombo, but the relationship has its ups and downs. Kiki becomes depressed, losing her ability to fly. When she happens to see Tombo suspended in the sky after an airship accident, she regains her power to fly, rescues him and is able then to continue her delivery service and presumably the romance.

The G-rated film was dubbed and released in the U.S. by Disney Studios at the Seattle film festival nine years later. This first Studio Ghibli and Disney Studios partnership then resulted in the release of home video.

Howl's Moving Castle

Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for this feature from Diana Jones' novel. After he directed the production, it was nominated for an Oscar. The imaginative story stars Sophie, a girl seemingly stuck in place, bored and lonely. She was working in her family's hat shop, and seemed to have little to look forward to except an unappealing future stretching ahead.

Then (tad-dah!) she meets Howl, and it's love at first sight. Sophie couldn't possibly anticipate the effect of their friendship on the jealous Witch of Waste. Feeling abandoned and betrayed, the witch casts a spell on Sophie that curses her to live in a 90-year-old body. Her only hope at that point rests with a young wizard and his friends who occupy a castle that walks on legs. Many adventures await Sophie as she seeks to break the curse the wicked witch has put on her. Sophie discovers her destiny in (where else would it be?) Howl's magical, ramshackle castle.

More of Miyazaki's work next time. See you then!

Photo credits carolynappleby2011

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