Wiscon is next weekend and I’m going to be on a few panels, in addition to doing my tarot and writing workshop. One of the panels is about Hayao Miyasaki, the director of movies such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle.
In preparation for the panel, I’ve been watching a number of movies from Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s’s animation studio. I started out with Lupin III; The Castle of Cagliostro and will end with Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw Ponyo earlier this year so I won’t need to rewatch that one. But it’s been quite the experience watching all of the movies in a row.
I love Miyasaki’s movies. The first Miyasaki movie I saw was Princess Mononoke. I was blown away by it and have become a huge fan as a result. The panel description asked if there was anything problematic about Miyasaki’s movies. I’ve had to think long and hard about that. Nope, sorry, can’t think of anything.
I only wish Miyasaki had been making these movies when I was a young girl. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like as a kid to have seen a movie like My Neighbor Totoro . The heroines in Miyasaki’s movies are strong, courageous and determined, but they have not lost the compassion, empathy and gentleness that I am finding disturbingly lacking in many of the portrayals of women protagonists being offered today.
Seriously, why does it appear nowadays that the only way a female character is taken seriously is measured either by how cold and unfeeling she is or the body count she leaves behind. The very qualities we used to chastise male characters for having. The rate of violence among young girls and teenagers is increasing and no one seems to care.
Strength should not only be measured by how “kick-ass” you are, how many people you can maim or kill, or how distant you are from your feelings. Strength, IMHO, should also be measured by one’s capacity to be strong but also compassionate and forgiving.
I’m not saying let people walk all over you. The heroines in Miyasaki’s movies are not doormats. To speak rather colloquially, they don’t take no smack from nobody. And they can get angry and cross and irritated, which gives them a three-dimensionality often missing even in live-action movies, but they are also kind and compassionate. Two qualities that also appear to be sadly lacking in our culture today.
So, if problems with Miyasaki’s films are what some people are expecting from the panel next weekend, I’m afraid I won’t have much to offer. I won’t say Miyasaki’s movies are perfect. Nothing is. But they are about as close to perfection as I have come across. Every time I watch a Miyasaki movie, I want to start writing something. He provides much-needed sustenance for the creative part of my soul.
As an example, here is a clip from the movie Whisper of the Heart. It was not directed by Miyasaki (the director was Yoshifumi Kondo, who unfortunately passed away at the age of 47) but Miyasaki wrote and storyboarded the movie.
The movie is about Shizuku Tsukishima, a middle-schooler who spends her most of her time reading books of fairy tales rather than her chores or schoolwork. She discovers that the same person, someone named Seiji Amasawa, appears to have checked out all the books she’s reading.
Seji is also a middle-schooler, who wants to become a master violin maker, something his parents are trying to discourage him from pursuing. After a series of sweet misunderstandings, Seji and Shizuku finally meet. The following clip is one of my favorite parts in the movie, as Seji and Shizuku engage in a charming, impromptu duet.