The Wonderful World of Miyazaki

It was relatively recently announced that superstar anime icon, Hayao  Miyazaki, is retiring from the business. He was semi-retired back in 1997 but came back with a vengeance. Mixed emotions have spurred up the internet with so much bravado that I feel compelled to write this article.

But, before I go jumping the gun, let me explain who Miyazaki is.  The co-founder of Studio Ghibi and anime director of classics like Spirited Away and My Neighbor, Totoro. He has been working in the business for 50 years now.

Most fans have a feeling of sadness due to this news of Miyazaki’s retirement. His films have transported us all to worlds of magical excitement and thrills. All the while, he kept all the movies family friendly.

His partnership with Disney has allowed a new age of fans, who aren’t gifted in the world of anime, to simply enjoy his works. This new audience will probably feel the most lost due to them just recently discovering his films.

I first discovered the world of Miyazaki through his first film in what will become known as Studio Ghibli, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. I saw it dubbed in English back in 1985 on HBO. I didn’t know what the film’s name was so I called it “HBO science fiction movie.”
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no Tani no Naushika, 1984), was an adventure film that introduced many of the themes which would recur in later films: a concern with ecology and the human impact on the environment; a fascination with aircraft and flight; pacifism, including an anti-military streak; feminism; and morally ambiguous characterizations, especially among villains.

I have watched that film so much that I tend to judge all other Miyazaki films by this standard. This is a grave mistake on my part since Miyazaki will not simply rehash an idea. Never will two films capture a similar feel or style.

This brings me to what critics feel is his greatest film, Princess Mononoke. In 1995, Miyazaki began work on Princess Mononoke, which uses the ecological and political themes of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind,  but tells the story in vibrant color and action. The story is about a struggle between the animal spirits inhabiting the forest and the humans exploiting the forest for industry. The film was released on July 19, 1997 and was both a financial and critical success; it won the Japan Academy Prize for Best Picture.

Shortly after Princess Mononoke’s success, Miyazaki went into semi-retirement. In working on the film, Miyazaki redrew 80,000 of the film’s frames himself. He also stated at one point that Princess Mononoke would be his last film.

Of course, like all the greats, Miyazaki could not retire fully and returned to the world with Spirited Away. Critics across the globe loved and cheered this film.

With 50 years of fantastic, imaginative and downright enjoyable films along with few very good mangas under his belt, the great Miyazaki has a legacy that may never be surpassed and he can retire and bask in the admirations of his peers and his devoted fan base, young and old.

The real question is will he stay retired this time? With icons like Stan Lee at 91 years young still working the business, the real question is why should he retire. His imagination is great and his talent is still strong,  which he still might be able to contribute more to the world of anime and manga.

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