Featured Contributor Mikey Burgett celebrates the life and work of Hayao Miyazaki.
“You cannot move into the future without first knowing the past.”
That is a quote from the film From Up On Poppy Hill. I think that is a pretty appropriate quote to begin this look back at the work of famed Japanese writer, artist, producer and director Hayao Miyazaki. I have bragged about his work several times on the podcast and here on the website. Given that his last feature film that he will direct has been released (The Wind Rises), I wanted to take a little time to celebrate his work and also share with you how I got interested in his films.
Miyazaki’s career work spans over 50 years. He started as an animator at Toei Animation (one of the largest animation studios in Japan) in 1963. He moved up the ranks in a short amount of time there and was a key leader and contributor to the work coming out of Toei in the 1960s. In 1971, he left and went to work at Nippon Animation. During his time at Nippon, he continued to develop and grow as an artist and as a leader. He also worked alongside Isao Takahata. These two men would later be founders of a certain studio that I’ll get to in a moment.
Miyazaki would leave Nippon in 1979 to direct his first animated feature film The Castle of Cagilostro. It is based on the Lupin III series which Miyazaki had worked on several episodes of the TV series. However, the first Miyazaki film in my book is the next film he directed. That film was Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind which was released in Japan in 1984. That film became a huge hit in Japan and is considered one of the most influential anime films.
With the success of Nausicca, Miyazaki and Takahata would go on to found Studio Ghibli. This is the studio from which the rest of Miyazaki’s films would be released. The first Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli film was Castle in the Sky which was released in Japan in 1986. It was a smash hit for Studio Ghibli and continued to propel Miyazaki upward. His next film, My Neighbor Totoro released in Japan in 1988 featured a character (Totoro) that became the mascot of the company and is synonymous with Studio Ghibli.
Into and throughout the 1990s, Miyazaki had continued success with not just his films (Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1989 and Porco Rosso in 1992) but also films made by others in the company. There also began to develop a following for his films in the United States. This is how I came to first know about his films. The first Miyazaki film that I watched and enjoyed was Princess Mononoke. Released in Japan in 1997, I first saw the film on VHS around 2000. I was introduced to it while I was in college by a friend. I got into anime when I was a teenager but hadn’t heard of Miyazaki when I watched Princess Mononoke. I would later get it on DVD and still have that copy. I would consider Princess Mononoke the best Miyazaki directed film.
It would be Miyazaki’s next film that would be his most successful. That film was Spirited Away. Released in Japan in 2001 (and in the U.S. in 2002), it would be the first film to gross $200 million worldwide before releasing in the United States. It would also be the film that would garner Miyazaki the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. The English dub of this film was supervised by John Lasseter from Pixar. I mentioned on the podcast in episode 101 about their friendship and it was through this friendship that Miyazaki’s work has been highlighted and featured in the United States.
With the success of Spirited Away, more of Miyazaki’s films began to see theatrical releases stateside was well as DVD releases of his classic films. Around 2006 I began to catch up on DVD with his work thanks to Blockbuster’s DVD by Mail (yes I had that before switching over to Netflix in 2010). His next film was 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, which would garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.
The first Miyazaki film that I saw in theaters was Ponyo which was released in the states in 2009. Ponyo was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and hearkens back to My Neighbor Totoro in style and tone. Miyazaki’s next film was Arietty (or known in the U.S. as The Secret World of Arietty) which was released in Japan in 2010 and in the U.S. in 2012. I saw this film in the theaters on my birthday so it was a nice birthday present of sorts. For Arietty, he was the writer and producer but not the director. Up to this point, this was only the second time that he was screenwriter but not director (the first was with the film Whisper of the Heart back in 1995).
Probably my favorite Miyazaki film that he ever wrote was From Up On Poppy Hill which was released in Japan in 2011 and in the States in 2013. It was limited release so I had to drive nearly an hour or so to see it in an art house movie theater but it was worth it. The film was directed by Goro Miyazaki, Hayao’s son. It was a departure from his more fantasy and spectacle films and was a little more rooted in history. I loved the story it told and personally think it should’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.
Miyazaki’s last directorial film is The Wind Rises. Released in Japan in July of last year, it got a limited release in the U.S. for a week in November so it could be considered for the Oscars before the English dubbed version has just now been released in theaters nationwide. It is a great sendoff for Miyazaki as it won numerous awards at film festivals around the world and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. I saw it this past weekend and it was worth watching. Very bittersweet story but captivating.
The Wind Rises opens with a line from Paul Valery’s poem “Le Cimetiere marin” which translated into English says roughly “The wind rises! We should try to live!” it is very fitting for this film to be the last for Hayao Miyazaki as director and writer. He is a visionary and pioneer in animation. There are millions around the world who love his work and have been inspired to dream and create their own works of art. I will miss Miyazaki’s work but I know that Studio Ghibli will continue to produce great work with the legacy that Hayao Miyazaki has left. I’ve mentioned on the podcast about his work. I spent a month on my series of articles “Movies You Have Not Seen But Should” highlighting some of his films. I cannot recommend enough that you go and watch his films. His films rank among some of the best films (not just animated films but films period) in the past 30 years. As Hayao Miyazaki rides off into retirement, I know I want to say thank you to him for sharing his gift with the world.