Posted by: Sarah | May 13, 2011

Hayao Miyazaki Films

I’ve recently found myself craving the experience of watching Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli films.  I first saw a Studio Ghibli film probably about 2-3 years ago at most, during a special month long celebration of his films being shown during the Adult Swim programming block on Cartoon Network.  A month of Miyazaki introduced me to Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and possibly Howl’s Moving Castle and Laputa: Castle in the SkyPrincess Mononoke was popular among one of my social groups in high school, but I’d never watched it, and I remember hearing about how Spirited Away won awards even in the United States.  Yet, for some reason, I resisted watching these marvelous movies, or was unable to find them, until recent years.  Besides the aforementioned, I have also seen and loved Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, and Ponyo.  Miyazaki’s films feature heroes of both the male and female variety, as well as children, teens, and adults.  They are mostly family friendly from what I have seen, and yet tell tales adults can enjoy even without children.  The films may be set in fantasy realms, or alternate historical versions of this world, but they still tell engaging stories.  I can’t say enough good things about these films.  I know at first I was not overly impressed with Miyazaki’s animation style as a kid (I remember seeing commercials for Kiki’s Delivery Service) but I have since come to appreciate the smoothness of the hand-drawn animation, the wealth of facial expressions, the intricacy of the textures of the landscapes and technologies portrayed.

My favorite of these would have to be either Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Laputa: Castle in the SkyNausicaa is the story of a princess of a small country and how she saves her people, and maybe even the world.  The story delves into the problems of pollution and the effects it can have on the world economy and politics, as well as how nature might evolve in order to deal with such pollution itself.  Miyazaki’s films, while meant to be entertainment, also contain messages both subtle and readily apparent.  Both Nausicaa and Laputa explore the nature of power and its relationships to corruption and responsibility.  The films never get bogged down in the message but use it as a tool of story telling.

Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and Kiki’s Delivery Service may all be considered coming of age type stories, as well as showcases for the power of friendship and family.  Yes, I understand that sounds pretty cheesy, but it’s true.    Howl’s Moving Castle is inspired by the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.  The book tells a deeper story than the film, as much probably had to be cut.  The film still tells a wonderful story, even if some of the details are changed, glossed over, or outright removed.  I would recommend both the film and the book, but I’m not sure which I would say you should see/read first.  As for Princess Mononoke, this is one film that’s probably not as family friendly as the rest – there are some violent and/or scary scenes, but all in all, the movie is great.  Pollution and expected societal roles seem to be favorite topics of Miyazaki’s in his films.  Because he does include these topics, there’s a certain amount of realism involved in these works despite the fact that they are animated works and usually include things that are not real.

I would recommend all of these films, and I plan to one day read the manga versions as well (at the very least, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind has a comic version).

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