Blog,  Love Letters,  Reflections

In Praise of Miyazaki-San or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Anime

<< Edited May 12, 2010 >>

What defines inspiration to a writer? I’ve spent a good deal of time reading, and have found some favorite authors, but there’s always more to it than just BOOKS, isn’t there? Stimuli is all around us. An artist’s source of inspiration is the very world around them, and they can step into worlds of another’s creation to find inspiration for their own. I have a deep and abiding love for music and brilliant composers, and amusingly enough, I’ve spent more academic class hours studying films and scripts than actual creative novel writing, so I have many things that have shaped my personal creative style. And so today, I would like to open up a strain of blogs discussing personally-noteworthy inspiration I’ve found from sources other than books, from here on known as “The Mad Muse.”

I would like to introduce one man who has opened my mind to a whole new view of storytelling. He is, probably, one of the biggest creative catalysts of my life, come to think of it. The first time I heard of Japanese animated film director, Hayao Miyazaki, was when I was in high school, when his movie “Spirited Away” was nominated for a Best Animated Film Oscar. I was not a fan of anime at the time, so I brushed past it with little interest, but a few years later when I watched “Princess Mononoke” and then “Spirited Away,” I was absolutely hooked.

First of all, his animation is first-rate. The art and style is gorgeous, fluid and colorful, and so expressive. Miyazaki’s movies cover many settings and levels of drama, but he is best known for heart-warming, charming, often slice-of-life stories with spunky, brave heroines (his films “Porco Rosso” and “The Castle of Cagliostro” and “Princess Mononoke” are the only ones with male main characters) who go on epic adventures and meet challenges, and often end in battles or conflicts with emotional climaxes. He is also known for his love of nature, and this is embodied in nature vs. industry themes throughout all of his movies. Even the musical scores are incredible, all done by the irreplaceable Joe Hisaishi, who always writes exciting and soaring scores that blend beautifully with each story. And even though the production and the art can be so complex at times, the stories he tells are so fresh and innocent. There are almost always unexpected friends appearing to help the characters through the hardest parts of their journeys. Even the bad guys aren’t usually all bad! And all his movies have satisfying conclusions, if not a wonderfully happy ending, so they leave you on a high note.

One of the things that give his movies such a unique feel, is that his stories don’t conform to Western storytelling rules. If characters fall in love, even if they express their feelings to each other, rarely is it consummated with more than a hug, and you’re lucky if they even kiss!

There were other concepts that felt distinctly Eastern, in the way they approach nature spirits and mythological creatures, and other aspects that I can sense but I still can’t put my finger on. Some of the most beautiful things in his films are character moments, or lingering sweeps over beautiful scenery, and he excels at both. They have a true appreciation for life and beauty rooted in Eastern culture, and it shows in Miyazaki’s films. Sometimes watching a little girl reading a book and wiping away tears, sitting in her messy little room while the night sounds of a city buzz past her window can be the best part of the movie. There is a genuine beauty and grace in his movies that I am hard pressed to find anywhere else.
I’ll always remember, when I attended the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC a few years ago, a choir was
singing the theme from the movie “My Neighbor Totoro,” and my dorky, enthusiastic heart just warmed up thinking about the shared love of Miyazaki films. But I’m such a huge fan because, other than creating amazing trendsetting art, he really opened my eyes to watch for the way that different cultures tell stories, and it’s taught me to learn from as many international writers and their global storytelling peers as possible, which was a huge milestone on my creative journey. If it weren’t for Miyazaki, I might still never have seen a single episode of anime, or opened myself to a whole world of storytelling.

But what I often feel is most important in any sort of storytelling media is the message being communicated. Miyazaki’s movies really give hope and encouragement through the simple things in life, and they’ve encouraged me when I’ve felt upset about my life or about certain situations. Even though he worked on it and didn’t direct it, the Studio Ghibli movie “Whisper of the Heart” is one of my favorite movies, about a little girl who is inspired to write a novel, and it brought me a lot of encouragement in a hard place. Also, “Kiki’s Delivery Service” is about a magical little girl who goes off to seek her fortune in the wide world, and she learns what it means to be independent, but not without going through trials of her own. I have picked up lessons and even character notes from Miyazaki films that will follow me the rest of my life, I am sure of it. Miyazaki’s films have given me so much as an artist and as a human being.

Domo arigato, Miyazaki-san. *cheesy deep breath* Domo arigato.

For a more in-depth look at his filmography (at least up to a certain point), check out a final project I worked on in college, made in Flash: Hayao Miyazaki. You can also check out his Wikipedia page.
I think I will end this entry with a trailer for “Spirited Away,” the movie that won an Oscar and originally brought Miyazaki onto my radar. I hope it tempts you!

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