Hayao Miyazaki: The Artist Who Made Japanese Anime Famous Worldwide – and Did So Much More Than That

Hayao Miyazaki: The Artist Who Made Japanese Anime Famous Worldwide – and Did So Much More Than That

It’s nearly impossible for someone who’s a fan of animated movies, to not have heard about Studio Ghibli at some point in his or her life. It’s not only the best-known and highest-praised Japanese animation film studio in the world, but it has also been bringing Hayao Miyazaki’s unique and inimitable projects and masterpieces to life since its establishment in 1985.

But Who Is Hayao Miyazaki?

Hayao Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941, in Bunkyō (Tokyo). Hayao, despite having completed academic degrees in Political Science and Economics, revisited his adolescent passion for anime and manga, joining Toei Animation Company’s staff as an artist.

He began by directing some episodes of the Lupin III series (including a film, Lupin III - The Castle of Cagliostro) andSherlock Hound. Hayao’s first written and illustrated work, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, was released in 1982 in the magazine Animage. Two years later, an animated film produced by that company – which he also directed – was a success. The achievement convinced Hayao to begin his own studio. Together with Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli arrived on the scene –– and it was here to stay.

His work has garnered the highest awards of the film "academies": Two Oscars (Spirited Away, for best animated film, 2003, and a lifetime achievement award in 2014), a Berlin Golden Bear (2002), and a Venice Golden Lion for lifetime achievement (2005).

Miyazaki’s work, and that of his studio – unanimously acclaimed by both critics and the public – have made such a mark on the world of film animation that they have changed how people view them. They might have even made people lose their prejudices against the world of anime… dipping their toes in deeper than just the movie Sol Levante.

He tells realistic, poignant stories in such a heartfelt, tender way, while showing the beauty of new evocative landscapes. He succeeds in not only appealing to a young audience but to older viewers as well; his films are truly made for everyone.

What most distinguishes this anime creator from others is his ability to tell real stories through fantasy, depicting real life in a fantastical way, but never in a fictitious way.

Making One's Battles One's Anthem

Miyazaki's worlds and landscapes are almost reminiscent of a dream… like childhood dreams and fantasies that come to life in pastels, allegorical images, and surreal contexts. The magic of these landscapes isn’t so much in the magical powers, however cleverly represented, nor in characters that are classic fantasy figures… rather, it’s in the unseen and unspoken aspects of the plot that make these creations original and unique.

It is not easy to describe in words the intensity of each story. The creator uses visual and musical poems to express his ideas, feelings, and life experiences.

Each story is extremely different from the other… the theme of each story is clear but not prevalent, which allows for a coherent and immersive narrative.

Miyazaki seems almost obsessed with the theme of flight: a passion “genetically inherited” from his father Katsuji. He was an engineer and co-owner of a factory that produced airplane parts, which greatly influenced Hayao since he was a child. For him – as he says in several interviews – flying is like being liberated from gravity. He consistently writes about the concept of liberation.

He depicts dreams and desires with a natural poetic feel, showing his own warmth, making him a leader and primary reference in contemporary cinema.

There is no absolute good – just as there is no absolute evil in his works. Every character has such depth and development that, to define them traditionally as either the good guy or the bad guy would be reductive and unrealistic.

Miyazaki's films always show their young protagonists on a path to growth and maturity, brought about through experiences that deeply impact them. In My Neighbor Totoro, the two young protagonists move with their father to a small village in the countryside so that they can visit their mother more often while she is in the hospital for a serious illness. The same happens in The Wind Rises, whose main theme is suffering and loss.

Both works are explicit references to the creator’s own childhood experience when his mother, Dola, fought tuberculosis.

The Constant Search for a Muse

The world does not give enough importance to the concept of inspiration, often misunderstanding the term. There are those who consider "drawing inspiration from something" as a sort of emulation rather than a homage, thus belittling the work itself.

In art, it is fundamental to understand the path of an artist, and to notice and understand the change and the maturation that makes him a real artist with his own unique and defined style. Miyazaki has not limited himself to repeat. He recognizes that he has taken something from every other creator he has ever followed, and then reworked it to make it entirely unique and his own.

To name a few, there’s Akira Kurosawa, another Japanese film director; Jean Giraud, who more Westerners might be familiar with, a French writer and illustrator; and writers Ursula Kroeber Le Guin and Roald Gahl who have written numerous novels about pilots and airplanes.

Even though Miyazaki has now surpassed eighty years of age – and even though he had announced several years ago that he intended to retire from the film scene in order to spend more time with his son Gorō, who will inherit all his father’s cultural and artistic heritage – dear Hayao just couldn’t stay away from his work for too long.

How Do You Live? is the latest of his projects, Studio Ghibli announced. According to interviews given by one of the members of the Japanese production studio, Miyazaki might be nearly finished with the production of this film.

"What Miyazaki wants is more than a simple reproduction of reality. It is the creation of an image that goes beyond reality!" says Toshiyuki Inoue, veteran animator at Studio Ghibli.

It's a fact of life: time passes for everyone. We get older, and we risk falling behind. What makes Miyazaki truly exceptional is his ability to not only keep up with others, but to anticipate trends.

Thanks to his ideas and skills, the world has been given timeless, magnificent masterpieces.

To his morals, we owe messages of hope and precious life lessons.

To his life’s works, we owe the future of anime and film animation.

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