Never heard of 69-year-old Japanese anime legend Hayao Miyazaki? Time Out looks at why his films aren't for kids
Time Out Doha staff
Don’t call it manga!
Like most Japanese animators, Miyazaki cut his teeth on manga. He illustrated several books before adapting one of them, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, to film. But remember, manga is a style of comicbook, this is anime (duh!). Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 with Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies). The parallels with US monster Disney are obvious: Pixar’s John ‘Toy Story’ Lasseter has vociferously claimed that Miyazaki’s film inspired their work; Disney even distribute Studio Ghibli films in the west. In its native Japan, Ghibli merchandise is omnipresent; there is even a Ghibli museum in Mitaka Forest, Tokyo. But if you’re approaching Miyazaki’s hand-drawn world expecting something akin to Bambi, be warned – singing bunnies are few and far between.
Marxism was a notable influence on the young Miyazaki, although, despite once leading a labour revolt, he later claimed that he abandoned these views in the ’80s. However, money is usually the root of all trouble in his films: ‘No-Face’ in Spirited Away is driven mad by the capitalist greed of the bathhouse while the economic demands of the industrial village in Princess Mononoke force them to destroy the forest. We sense a theme emerging.
The majority of Studio Ghibli’s films have an anti-war/military bias. One of Miyazaki’s most iconic scenes is to be found in Porco Rosso, the story of a seaplane pilot cursed to look like a pig, where he depicts all of the dead pilots killed in the first World War flying up to heaven. Notably, Miyazaki didn’t attend the Oscars when Spirited Away won Best Animated Feature; he later explained that it was because of America’s involvement in the Iraq War.
Miyazaki has a fascination with strong women. Some have even called him a feminist thanks to the endless parade of dominant female characters which litter his films. These usually go against traditional Japanese gender types, from bullish female sky captains and the gynocratic village in Princess Mononoke to the mischievous Ponyo.
Never afraid to shove a bit of eco-avenging down the throats of his audience, Miyazaki’s favourite beef usually takes the form of none-too-subtle allegories depicting man destroying nature. Later, these develop into more complex tales, such as Princess Mononoke, but it’s no coincidence that evil normally takes the form of an oil-like substance. Get ’em while they’re young, Hayao.
Young Hayao’s father was the director of Miyazaki Airplane during World War II, prompting a lifelong love of flight. Kiki’s Delivery Service has some of his best flying scenes, particularly the beautifully rendered dirigible crash at the end. Also, check out Nausicaä’s glider scenes and the ornithopters flown in Laputa: Castle in the Sky.
3/5 Dir. Hayao Miyazaki The beauty of Miyazaki is that he creates films which are not childish, but childlike. At his best he captures the wonder and magic of being a child, experiencing something new for the first time. At his worst, he is simply baffling. Ponyo has a little of both. The story pays passing lip-service to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, but the actual tale of a young goldfish, rescued from the sea by a little boy, Sosuke, only to fall in love, bares little relation. The narrative is oblique to say the least and the ending is sudden and sloppy, even by Miyazaki standards, but the animation is some of his most stunning.
The sea is his muse here, and the images of little Ponyo running atop the waves as they crash behind her are breathtaking. Not even the Disney-sponsored dubbing can spoil the visual flow. In the age of CGI, Ponyo’s hand-drawn charms are undeniable and this is a brilliantly colourful example. Even if the narrative is one of Miyazaki’s more ponderous, Ponyo is a simply a beautiful film. Gareth Clark