Legendary Filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli and a pioneer of Japanese animated feature films is all set to release his very last film, How Do You Live?, after a decade on July 14 2023. It is one of the most anticipated movies of 2023, especially for Studio Ghibli fans, because it marks the comeback of Hayao Miyazaki after his retirement. Hayao Miyazaki plays a major role in why Studio Ghibli is as reputed and accomplished as it is. He is an excellent storyteller whose direction never fails to astound the audience with its simplicity and humane nature. His works at Studio Ghibli embody wholesomeness, make you see beauty in ordinary life, show the recurring theme of nature vs technology, the power of dreams, emotions of youth, the importance of art and craftsmanship and make you feel human. Studio Ghibli movies directed by Miyazaki have proved to be a cultural reset because of how he portrays his protagonists, often strong young women or girls, who are morally ambiguous and are still figuring out their path in life. Most people, even adults, are just humans who are trying to figure out who they are and when this is portrayed through his films it finds a unique meaning for every person to ponder upon.
As children, his movies like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle or My Neighbour Totoro, can be seen as a fantasy movie with beautiful animation. But as you grow up and watch it as a teenager or an adult, the themes, hidden symbolism, beauty of Ma and the aspects of immersive realism blow your mind. The genius ideas that go into making such movies make it an enjoyable ride. The visual aesthetics of Miyazaki’s films have their separate fandom. The vast green landscapes with beautiful pastel flowers and white cotton candy clouds, interesting character designs that no one could have imagined, and the subtle animated movements add to show realism are his signature visual aesthetics. His rich imagination makes it possible for characters like Ponyo (from Ponyo), Totoro (from My Neighbour Totoro) and Calcifer (from Howl’s Moving Castle) to come alive and stay with the audience as iconic characters known for their visual and personality traits. You keep coming back to watch these movies, seeking comfort.
His vision of seeing and showing the unnoticed beauty in the world is reflected in the films he makes because it makes the audience feel like the main character of their life. Even undecorated life has meaning and beauty to it. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki starts off with determination and optimism while starting an independent life but soon it turns boring, monotonous, burdensome and lonely, just like how adulting usually is. The transition from experiencing life as a child to an adult who must live as an independent person is portrayed so well that it comforts the viewers that everyone feels the same way at that stage of life and it’s okay to feel these vulnerable emotions. What is much more appealing is that his movies are not structured by having a specific narrative arc but they have a certain flow that keeps you hooked until the very end.
Miyazaki’s narratives give the children and women of the movies their own feelings and autonomy that makes you acknowledge the complexity of the character. He does not pit characters against each other. His antagonists are also shown as human and not direct rivals of the protagonist. It can also be observed how Miyazaki’s own beliefs and culture influence his stories with themes of environmentalism, exploitation due to industrialisation and the capitalistic society.
Princess Mononoke is one such historical epic fantasy film written and directed by Miyazaki that puts forth some very important questions that could stir your mind. The after-effects of industrialization on nature are depicted through a fantastical drama genre with a strong and wild human female lead, San, who fights alongside her family, the wolf-pack, to save the forest in which many spirits and creatures reside. It makes eye-opening revelations about life and nature and the struggle to create balance in nature. He portrays raw emotions like anger, passion, greed, jealousy and pure feelings of love, sadness and kindness through his movies which is why it comes across the screen and touches the audience in an unforgettable way. This is also attributed to the Ma, moments of silence that are filled by the sounds and visuals of the setting which gives depth to the story. It’s more than a small moment because it’s a breathtaking moment that is so meaningful and the feeling invoked is extremely touching. Ma gives breathing space for the characters in the plot and for the audience to take a moment in.
The efforts put in to make every single detail noticeable makes a huge difference in his movies by adding to the bigger picture and how the audience perceives the setting of the story. The bathhouse in Spirited Away is one such example of how important details in every scene are to make the story relevant. It helped the symbolism of luxury, human greed and excessiveness reach the audience as well as stay relevant to the setting. Every Studio Ghibli movie is a meticulously planned realm, which makes it bigger than just a film. Apart from the direction, writing and animation, what brings melody and synchrony to the films is the classical instrumental music present in almost every Studio Ghibli film. It has to be mentioned because it sets the rhythm and tune of the world that Miyazaki has created.
Studio Ghibli movies have raised generations of people. They encompass the kindness and warmth that people need. Miyazaki wants children and people to realise that life is worth living. His movies are filled with spirits that speak to the souls of the audience. The magical realm created by him will always make the audience feel empowered and full of positive emotions. The influence Miyazaki has had on people through the formative lessons and messages of his ingenious films that have impacted people of all ages will forever be etched in people’s hearts, souls and minds.