Hayao Miyazaki. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re most likely wondering who he is and why he’s important. If you’ve seen any of his films, however, you’re probably one of two things: a fan of his work, or else a person allergic to joy, creativity and childlike wonder.
Miyazaki is a Japanese filmmaker and one of the most influential animators of all time. There are a lot of adjectives I could apply to Miyazaki’s movies—breathtaking and awe-inspiring come to mind—but the best word for them is beautiful. Hayao Miyazaki makes beautiful films.
Miyazaki’s work is notable for its thematic complexity as well as its stunning animation. The conflicts in his stories are seldom black-and-white clashes of good and evil, but subtler disputes among flawed characters. Environmentalism, feminism and Japanese folklore are woven throughout Miyazaki’s movies—along with airplanes and airships, for some reason.
Miyazaki and his colleagues founded Studio Ghibli, the animation company behind movies such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Academy Award-winning Spirited Away and my all-time favorite film Castle in the Sky. (Studio Ghibli’s mascot is the adorable Totoro.) Miyazaki’s latest movie, The Wind Rises, was just released in the West and I want to see it so much.
This is supposedly Miyazaki’s final feature before his retirement, but I hope he continues working. He has “retired” at least two or three times since the release of Princess Mononoke, his first “last film,” in the late nineties. Whether or not he keeps making movies, his creativity and vision will continue to influence filmmakers all over the world.
Consider John Lasseter, director of classics like Toy Story and chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Lasseter declared of Miyazaki’s work, “It is unbelievable, it is hand-drawn animation at its finest. Unbelievable.” (May it also be known that Toy Story 3 included a plush Totoro as an homage to Miyazaki.) Thanks to Lasseter and the good folks at Disney, Studio Ghibli’s films have escaped the hack localization and lousy dubbing from which so many foreign films suffer. The American versions of Studio Ghibli’s films are superb.
If you like animated movies and/or have a soul, I recommend watching at least one of Studio Ghibli’s films. Castle in the Sky is an epic fantasy adventure; My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service are slow, gentle family films; Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata, will break your heart; Spirited Away is Japan’s lovely answer to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and Porco Rosso stars a flying pig. (Hey, don’t laugh! The hero of Porco Rosso is a legendary fighter pilot, thank you very much.) Watch just one of these films. Everyone needs a little Studio Ghibli.
Better yet, watch all of these movies!