Hayao Miyazaki

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.


12 Responses to Hayao Miyazaki

  1. Digital Dame says:

    I’m curious why this is being included in a writers’ conference? Or does it also cover movie-making? What aspect are you addressing about Miyazaki? I haven’t looked into Wiscon so I’m not sure what it’s about.

    I haven’t seen any of these movies, although I have heard much good about “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Didn’t it take the Oscar a few years ago?

  2. Jenna Reynolds says:

    Wiscon isn’t a writer’s conference per se, although a lot of writers and editors attend it. It’s a science fiction convention. Here’s a description of it from their website.

    [Wiscon] is the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention. WisCon encourages discussion and debate of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class. WisCon welcomes writers, editors and artists whose work explores these themes as well as their many fans. We have panel discussions, academic presentations, and readings as well as many other uncategorizable events. WisCon is primarily a book-oriented convention… with an irrepressible sense of humor.

    They have different tracks for the panels. So, for example, the Miyasaki panel is under the track

      Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction

    . Another track for possible panels might be

      Power, Privilege, and Oppression

    and under that track would be panels dealing with those issues.

    However, there is a track called

      The Craft and Business of Writing

    and that’s where my panel on tarot and writing is located.

    Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture in 2003. It was the first Japanese animated feature to do so.

    For the Miyasaki panel, the description is as follows: Films such as Ponyo, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Princess Mononoke feature girls in lead roles, themes of taking care of nature and taking care of each other, spirituality, adventure, platonic love, and families. Characters tend to be realistic and flawed. Are there any problematic themes in these works?

    What’s cool about Wiscon is that anyone can suggest a panel and anyone can be on a panel. You just have to request it and if there’s space available and it fits your schedule you’re on.

    Actually, there probably are problematic themes in Miyasaki’s films just as there in anything. I’m just so much of a fan I’m having trouble finding them. πŸ™‚

  3. Digital Dame says:

    Oh, now I see! Ok, sounds like a really interesting conference.

    As far as Miyazaki’s work, is there any common element that precipitates the heroines’ problems? For instance, do they all start out in some kind of oppressive situation that is the catalyst for their adventures?

  4. Jenna Reynolds says:

    It is. Can be a bit frustrating at times but it’s never dull.

    I wouldn’t say oppression necessarily but there’s usually some event, either externally or internally, that sets them on their respective journey.

    For example, in Miyasaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), it’s a 1,000 years in the future and the pockets of humanity remaining are surrounded by a toxic jungle, the result of man’s reckless destruction of the earth’s ecosystem. Nausicaa is a princess of sorts, who rules with her father in the peaceful and tranquil Valley of the Wind. Nausicaa’s adventure begins when other humans, led by the warlike Tolmekians, decide that they’re going to destroy the toxic jungle using terrible weapons from the past. When the Tolmekians kill Nausicaa’s father it’s up to her to save her people.

    In My Neighbor Tortoro, the two young heroines are trying to deal with their mother’s illness and their fear of losing her. They’re both very young and the movie chronicles their attempts to cope, mainly by becoming friends with the very large and mostly silent Tortoro, who may or may not be a figment of their imagination.

    In Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki is a thirteen year old witch who, as part of the witch’s tradition, must leave home for a year and make it on her own in a city in order to prove her competence as a witch. Kiki must not only find a way to support herself but, as a young girl, also has to deal with her own inner insecurities.

    So, no, I wouldn’t say that Miyasaki’s films deal with oppression in the sense of some patriarchal system that’s stifling his heroines, but all of them do have to overcome obstacles, both internal and external along their journeys.

    Miyasaki does address the horrors of war and the decimation of the environment in his movies but the struggles the heroines must face and overcome are more universal in that they would be the same obstacles a young boy would face, for example, but the fact that the heroines are young girls, IMHO, makes their struggles even more poignant and intriguing.

  5. Jenna Reynolds says:

    In case anyone is interested in some idea of the range of panels at Wiscon, you can check out the pdf of this year’s program here.


  6. Amy says:

    I love his films.

    I love Anime. My favorite (from when I was a kid) was Galaxy Express 999. I also remember watching Unico, but alot of Anime and indeed cartoons in the 1980’s were dark and had adult themes.

  7. Digital Dame says:

    Oh wow, I forgot about “Unico”! I still have that on a VHS tape somewhere…

  8. Jenna,

    I totally agree with your thoughts in this post. Sure, a kick-ass female can be fun. But I think too many people today are confusing physical strength with true inner strength.

    I loved the show, Lost, but one thing that drove me nutty was they’d often have female characters just out of the blue bop someone on the head and knock them out. (and not someone who was attacking them by the way) That doesn’t make a female character cool or strong. It just makes her violent.

    Like in one instance, the character Charlotte hits Kate over the head, just because she didn’t want Kate to go on the trek with her. Daniel Faraday stares at Charlotte in shock, and Charlotte simply shrugs and says, “What?” And walks away.

  9. p.s. While the very interesting, and three-dimensional character, Sun, was diminished to almost only a walk-on part by the end. gah!

  10. Jenna Reynolds says:

    Amy: I had never even heard of Galaxy Express 999 but I just googled it and I’ll have to see if my library has it. One branch has an amazing amime collection. And Unico looks interesting also. Thanks for the heads up! πŸ™‚

    GS: Bad writing is bad writing and when, instead of creating, as you noted, an interesting, 3-dimensional character, the writer reduces his or her so-called kiss-ass heroine to just slugging it out (with their skinny-little arms, I might add) for no apparent reason other then to show how “tough” the heroine is, I don’t care how “politically correct” the writer is trying to be he or she has now created and manifested a stereotype. And I define a stereotype not so much as a character that you see all of the time (and there is a big difference between an archetype, for example, and a stereotype) but as a character with the dimensionality of a pancake. Which, I’m afraid, the kick-ass heroine is fast becoming. Ubiquitous, predicable, and, therefore, boring.

  11. Heh heh. I love how you put it: “the dimensionality of a pancake.”

    Did you happen to watch, Lost? I’d been so psyched when I heard that in season 4 they were introducing a female archeologist (Charlotte). There was so much they could have done with her character (hello, archeologist on a mysterious island!), but ALL she did for a season and a half was throw about snarky comments and yeah, the occasional fist.

    Pff. Pancake indeed! The actress and viewers deserved so much better than that.

  12. Jenna Reynolds says:

    I am probably one of those people who started watching Lost, didn’t keep up with it, heard about it from others and the media over the course of its six year run and then decided to watch the finale this past Sunday. πŸ™‚

    But that kind of hack writing regarding female characters I’ve seen in other movies and TV shows so I’m not surprised by it.

    I’m sorry, but writing a female character in that way is no different than in the past when the female character would scream hysterically at the sight of the monster, bad guys, tsunami or whatever and/or fall down when running away from the monsters, bad guys, tsunami or whatever and the male character would act condescending toward her for being such a sweet dope or slap her when she became ridiculously hysterical at the most inconvenient moment in the plot.

    Just because now in the 21st century you have the woman character make snarky comments or beat up and/or kill people instead of scream hysterically or fall down when running doesn’t give her more depth or complexity. She’s now just another boring, flat, uninteresting stereotypical character.

    IMHO, of course and as always. This is just my personal take on the matter.

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