Miyazaki Hayao

“Not a day goes by that I do not utilise the tools learned from studying his films.” — John Lasseter (Toy Story)

“Miyazaki is like a god to us.” — Barry Cook and Tony Bancrofy (Mulan)

“Miyazaki is the greatest living animator… His frames are brilliantly, sunnily ‘lit’, with exhilarating shifting perspectives and cinematic movement, and a drawing style that is as detailed and dense as Brueghel.” — Philip Lopate, Film Comment

“A $150-million grossing phenomenon in its native Japan, the most popular home-grown film in that country’s history, Princess Mononoke marries a remarkable sense of visual fantasy, both lyric and violent, with an ecology themed story and complex characters. It’s an eco-fairy tale, animation as we’ve not experienced it before – and it’s exactly what devotees of writer-director Hayao Miyazaki have come to expect. Revered in Japan and elsewhere as perhaps the greatest artist of contemporary animation, Miyazaki and the company he co-founded in 1984, Studio Ghibli, have shown that more personal animation can reach the widest audiences…

“Miyazaki, who seems to literally breathe fantasy, works in a clean, fluid style, not afraid to be dark, but also takes pleasure in pastel colours. A legendary perfectionist who avoided computer generated work until this film, and still personally retouched 80,000 of the 1,440,000 animation cells, he creates a self-contained world that would not exist without animation, and a more satisfying use of them would be difficult to imagine.” — Kenneth Turan, LA Times, 29/10/99

The Festival is delighted to present the overdue New Zealand big-screen premières of three spectacular animated features by the great Miyazaki. It’s been worth the wait, for while we were clamouring for Princess Mononoke after seeing it at the 1998 Berlin Festival, Disney were buying the studio’s entire output for worldwide distribution. (Disney artists consider Miyazaki a source of inspiration.) The contract said Disney could not change a frame – but there was no objection to dubbing into English, because of course, all animation is dubbed into even its source language, and as Miyazaki cheerfully observes, ‘English has been dubbed into Japanese for years’.

We hardly need add that dubbing is not the form of translation we generally favour, but the work has been done extremely well (amusingly so in the case of Kiki) and frees the eyes to feast on the film’s visual splendours. For Japanese speakers, we present a special screening of the English-subtitled, original language version in Auckland.

The following notes were written by Philip Brophy, for the Melbourne International Film Festival’s Studio Ghibli tribute in 1997. http://media-arts.rmit.edu.au/Phil_Brophy/PBfront.html

Studio Ghibli

Nowhere is the level of sophistication of Japanese animation more apparent than in the work produced by Studio Ghibli – currently the biggest and most recognised independent animation studio in the country. It also happens to produce the most artistically advanced examples of cel animation in the world.

Studio Ghibli (WWII Italian fighter pilot slang to describe the hot wind blowing across the Sahara Desert) was formed in 1985 by Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao under the financial support and incorporation of Tokuma Shoten Publishing. Miyazaki and Takahata met while honing their craft at the Toei-Doga Animation Studios in the early 60s. There they became nakama (comrades) and forged a strong creative relationship: they both led the animators’ union at the studio, plus director Takahata urged animator Miyazaki to move into the directing field.

From there they developed a vision to make quality feature animations for theatrical release. This imperative would become the foundation of Studio Ghibli’s identity. While Takahata had directed numerous films and TV series over this period (including the acclaimed The Great Adventures of Horus: Prince of the Sun, 1968), Miyazaki directed fewer (including his distinctive take on Monkey Punch’s Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, 1979).

Concurrent with their explorations in the field of television animation, Miyazaki commenced work on the manga Nausicaa: In the Valley of the Wind (since made available in seven translated volumes through VIZ Publications). Serialised in Animage magazine from 1982, its popularity soon prompted the production of a feature animation, which in turn allowed Miyazaki and Takahata to commence on the realisation of their vision. Following the success of the Nausicaa film in 1984 – produced by Takahata and directed by Miyazaki – Studio Ghibli officially came to life in 1985 with the production of Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

After the release of Laputa in 1986, production increased at Studio Ghibli. My Neighbour Totoro and Tombstone for Fireflies were concurrently produced then released as a double bill in 1988. While not as big box-office draw cards as expected, Fireflies has gone on to be critically regarded as Totoro eeps growing in popularity – especially since the marketing of the film’s soft toys (ironically two years after the film’s release). Then came the box office smash of Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1989 which solidified Studio Ghibli’s track record and status within Japan’s animation industry. More films followed, culminating in Takahata’s Pom Poko being selected as Japan’s entry into the 1994 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film.

By 1995, Studio Ghibli had shifted to larger premises, implemented a plan to employ full-time staff as opposed to contract work attached to discrete projects, ventured into TV series production, and opened the East Koganei Village School of animation for which the school master is Takahata... Buena Vista will also be releasing most of Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue, thereby allowing the West greater access to the marvellous work of Miyazaki Hayao and Takahata Isao.

Miyazaki Hayao

Miyazaki Hayao’s work is carried by various streams of fantasy, most of which are navigated by central teenage girl characters. (Spielbergian ‘wonder boys’ they’re not.) Yet rather than make bishojo anime (for the ‘young girls’ market), Miyazaki makes fully rounded dramas within which there simply exist strong girls. Such characters in Miyazaki’s work form a base from which ecological concerns extend on both macrocosmic and microcosmic levels. Acknowledging existence from dimensional, planetary effects to the slightest physical nuances, Miyazaki’s characters always tread carefully. They also fly beautifully. Miyazaki is obsessed with flight of all kinds, and often uses it as the vehicle not only for high-keyed drama, but also to generate emotional substance in his characters. The high quality animation which realises all these concerns is controlled and distinctive. Miyazaki’s acute rhythmic sensibility privileges inspiring silence as much as dizzying motion effects, typifying his uniquely Japanese slant on the medium.

Films we have screened by this Director