By Aly Runke, contributing writer
Hello, from Phoenix Comicon 2014, we have hit up day two, the first day with programming from sun up to sun down and I am here to tell you about one awesome panel we went to all about the worlds of Hayao Miyazaki. The panel was hosted by Deborah Deacon, a professor at Arizona State University (ASU) and art historian who specializes in Asian art, specifically that of Hayao Miyazaki. She teaches anime classes at ASU, one is even online, but sorry it’s already full for this upcoming fall semester.
Deacon began her panel with a general overview on the life and art of Miyazaki; I will spare you the nitty gritty but for those who don’t know too much about Miyazaki here are some quick facts. Miyazaki got his start in animation by doing the in-between animation cells for action scenes but soon, his talent was recognized. As he was developing his style and fame, he was able to meet the nine original animators for Disney and become close friends with producer John Lasseter. There is a biography out about Miyazaki called The Starting Point.
In Miyazaki’s works he focuses on several personal passions: his love for aviation, his concern for the environment, and his respect for traditional Japanese values and religion. Miyazaki began working on children’s anime and between projects, Miyazaki wrote his manga Nausicaa and The Valley of The Wind. This manga touched on his passions for aviation and the environment and the main protagonist was a strong female, all of which would become archetypes for Miyazaki’s films. He didn’t originally want to animate Nausicaa, but it is now his most-respected film.
Starting in the 1980s Miyazaki would churn out about one movie a year, and with each movie he would study every animation cell and make personal hand drawn edits. In this panel Deacon discussed the world building of seven of Miyazaki’s animated feature films; My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo and The Cliff by the Sea, Porco Rosso, Wind on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises.
As Deacon went through each of these films’ worlds she discussed the different western elements that Miyazaki added to them. He pays homage to such classic fairy tales as The Little Mermaid and Alice in Wonderland as well as some western classics such as Gilgamesh and the legend of the founding of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Miyazaki, though, did more than adapt western stories. For example, he showcases his respect for the Shinto gods in several films including My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke. Several of the characters in these films are based off traditional Shinto gods and goddesses.
Miyazaki also wanted to bring attention to environmental issues that came with the turning of the century as well as the effects of globalization on Japan. This is shown in Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, and My Neighbor Totoro. In each of these films Miyazaki looks at nature and what it means to respect it. As Deacon says, “Nature is at the heart of the universe Miyazaki makes here.” (In reference specifically to My Neighbor Totoro). With the films so far discussed, Miyazaki has built worlds that can be enjoyed by adults and children with different lessons to be learned by both. That is what makes his world-building so great; it is a “real world we can identify with,” says Deacon.
Miyazaki also creates selfless, caring, and strong characters in these movies, such as Nausicaa, Chihiro from Spirited Away, and little Ponyo. About such strong female characters, Deacon says, “[As] compelling as any western hero…seeking the magic in every day life.”
When discussing Miyazaki’s more serious films, Deacon acknowledges that his storytelling differs. This is true in such films as Porco Rosso, From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Wind Rises, all adult-oriented animated films. These films deal with darker storylines, and adult problems such as change and love. They still pay tribute to things he loves, such as aviation and his apparent affinity for pigs. They however are to exist on a deeper level for his audience. In fact he took the title for his last film, The Wind Rises from a line from a French poem, “The wind is rising we must try to live.”
Overall, the entire panel was well planned out and extremely interesting, I could write a paper on what I learned. If any of this has piqued your interest and no other anime has before do take a look at the work of the king of anime himself, Hayao Miyazaki.