If you don’t know who Miyazaki is, then let me introduce you to one of the best animated film directors of all time. Where Christopher Nolan & Quentin Tarantino are today’s “pure film” masters, in the animated world it’s Miyazaki all the way.
On Thursday, the larger collection of his works was released on Netflix here in Canada, eh? I’m like a kid in a candy shop.
Miyazaki tends to follow a set of themes in his stories, which I guess go counter to most mainstream media.
- Feminism is a consistent theme. Most of the films have female protagonists and focus on their complexity.
- Love is throughout, but in the esoteric/family sense. The major plot points are resolved through empathy and sacrifice.
- Environmentalism is key where the world is a goal, not the individual.
- Peace and pacifism. The protagonists rarely use any violence, and any death’s are mourned rather than celebrated.
- Magic/mysticism are facts of life. “Normal” worlds are seen as strange.
- Grey antagonists pervade. It’s frankly amazing how complex these folks are – Lady Eboshi / Princess Mononoke in particular.
What you end up with are films that package a moral journey of resolving conflict through dialogue and sacrifice. How many films play in North America work that don’t have a gun in them, or violence as the core of the story? The stories come in tight, and with multiple layers. There’s a whole lot of show, don’t tell throughout.
Which leads me to the actual animation. It’s still hand-made today, and the cells are all overseen to perfection. Miyazaki is a micro-manager / perfectionist in this regard, so that the characters all feel natural. Tiny scenes that don’t move the plot, but move the character are throughout. Some scenes focus on silence, just to prove that point.
So last night I watched Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Other films came before then, but the general consensus is that this is the real starting point of his major work. For a film from ’84, you can see the ripples across other forms of media. Chocobos come from here. Metal Slug copied a ton of the art. If you’ve seen a post-apocalyptic movie, odds are there are scenes pulled from here. The tapestry scene in the opening credits gives all the background you need to know in about 15 seconds of still, abstract images. Even the Ohm changed the way creatures in sci-fi were displayed forward.
If you have the time, pick a Ghibli/Miyazaki film, sit back, and enjoy. It’s going to a better choice than 95% of the rest of stuff that’s streaming.