I’m certain this isn’t news, but I’m a massive Hayao Miyazaki fan. I’ve seen all his films and after last year I can happily say I’ve seen at least one of them on the big screen.
The first film of his I actually saw I believe was Spirited Away. I was in high school at the time and was into anime but didn’t have the full power of the internet, since we still used dial up 64k modems, in order to fuel this interest. The Oscars had just given the film best foreign film award and a friend of mine had mentioned he had it on DVD. I borrowed it and feel in love immediately. As soon as I had enough cash I started going on a DVD hunt of his films. To date I’m not really certain which of his films I love the most. Each of them I love more when I’m in different moods and I’m awaiting a blu ray release of The Wind Rises so I can finally revisit it since last September.
So when the news was announced last year that The Wind Rises would be Miyazaki’s last film I wasn’t particularly devastated; but I was saddened. While I continue to champion the idea of finite life spans for all things in art and decry the constant need for immortality of characters and other aspects of storytelling in the film universe a part of me felt nostalgic and depressed all at the same time knowing that this brand of filmmaking won’t be seen again. Some would point and laugh at this statement and say that I’m being hyperbolic. That Miyazaki’s work, which is highly influenced by the Spielberg films of the 70s anyways, will go on to influence others and will live on as an aspect of someone else’s work; which is very true, but it won’t be Miyazaki. I won’t get to have that great moment of hoping to hear of Miyazaki returning to the Lupin III franchise for another time. Or hearing of another great fantastical world he’s dreamt up for me to want to live in again.
My continued passion for his work resumed sometime in 2004 when I attended Lawrence University. With the aid of a couple of really nerdy (and awesome) Resident Assistants who loved to put on some fun movie nights I found myself finally seeing the likes of The Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke. The worlds kept getting bigger and more flamboyantly amazing for me. At times in film we can watch it and see the edge of the frame as a cut off point; the point where the magic of fiction ends and nothing else matters, but for me with Miyazaki’s work I always saw it as an edge that I always wanted to peer around.
However, if you were to ask me what the most perfect Miyazaki film to date is it’s his debut film of Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. The film isn’t anything mindblowing in sense of set pieces or storytelling. It follows a very formulaic structure that most Lupin entities do. Miyazaki started as the director for a series for Lupin and eventually got do his first film as a chapter of the Lupin story. What I think is so amazing about this film is how well he fuses his weird humour into it. Lupin was always a whimsically mad cap humourous character with his band of thieves; but something about the way Miyazaki places these jokes visually and in motion in his style of animation feels more right here than in any of his other films — or in any other Lupin film.
Before I leave you there is one more film I must discuss of Miyazaki’s work, and that is My Neighbor Totoro. The film that queues us in to what the hell that drawing in the Ghibli frame is about is quite honestly Miyazaki’s craziest film ever released. At it’s heart it talks about a more natural life — a theme that prevails in almost all of his work — as a young girl finds a Totoro in the bush behind her new country home. The Totoro keeps her safe as her father is away at work and it does so while revealing a whole new world that exists almost over our own that we just never see. A world which involves trees that can grow on a whim and cat busses (a bus that’s made of a cat, with lots of legs, it’s insane). Somehow visually this film is more shocking than any other of his movies even though almost every one of his films — besides his first and his last — remain in a fantasy world that tends to have houses that can move on their own or post-apocalyptic worlds which is overtaken by large bugs. Seeing these animals become more than just things that occupy our world and be elements we can intelligently interact with, and at times be emotional about, just amazes me.
So after almost a year of having to come to terms with Miyazaki’s retirement — and now the internet a buzz with rumours (and just that rumours) of Studio Ghibli shutting down — I felt like it time to talk a little bit about my love for his work. He will forever be the man who truly spurned my love for all things Japanese when it comes to cinema. I honestly don’t think I would’ve gone down the rabbit hole of Satoshi Kon, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Katsuhiro Otomo, Mamoru Oshii or Noboru Ishiguro. There are a lot more I’m leaving off of this shortlist, but hey you know that don’t you.
Well once and for all — until Miyazaki proves that this is just a painful prank he’s pulling on me — I want to say thank you Hayao and I hope you’re enjoying the rest.