Add an extra dollop of vibrant color here, dab on some more movement there, sprinkle a bit of sound… and finish it all off with a signature sweep of dreamy fantasy. These are just finishing touches on Hayao Miyazaki’s works. This screenwriter, animator, and director is most famous for quirky characters and engaging plots. His films have an Alice in Wonderland zaniness, but with artful sentimentality and lessons about life and growing up.
Released in 1989, the animated film Kiki’s Delivery Service tells the story of a young witch Kiki as she leaves her parents to live by herself for a year. Equipped with her broomstick and feline friend Jiji, Kiki finds herself running a delivery service in a seaside city. Despite the lack of conflict, the exuberant characters and richly detailed images make this film one of Miyazaki’s best. The incredibly detailed artwork, such as the clock tower and quaint European architecture, is beautiful. This film is a colossal tribute to deviants of gravity as shown by Kiki’s broomstick flying, Tombo’s machine, and the dirigible. The pure joy of flight expressed through animation and youthful innocence make this film a delight for all ages.
One of the few Miyazaki films with a male protagonist, Princess Mononoke (1997) tells the story of cursed Prince Ashitaka. Forced to slay a demon endangering his village, Ashitaka sets off to find a cure to the mark the demon left and “see with eyes unclouded by hate”. Righteous and brave, he tries to stop the conflict between Iron Town and the nearby forest gods who each seek to destroy the other. Seeing the good in both sides, Ashitaka chooses to use his power for peace. The riveting plot and bold characters guarantee a moving experience showing the relationship between humanity and nature. Viewers are guaranteed to walk away with a strong respect for regal but pacifistic Ashitaka and gutsy ladies like Lady Eboshi, Moro, and San.
Wanting to present young girls with a role model, Miyazaki created Spirited Away (2001) and Chihiro, a clumsy girl who resents leaving behind her old school and friends to move to a new neighborhood. At first, she seems like a whiny brat who cries easily. In Spirited Away, Chihiro finds herself stuck in the world of spirits working in a witch’s bath house to save her parents. Hard work and learning to face her fears force Chihiro to leave the spirit world as a determined young woman. This growing up story has all the works: unlikely friendships, first love, strange creatures, and one scary fire-breathing shape-shifting hag. One of Miyazaki’s dreamiest, sweetest, and darkest films, Spirited Away is a plunge into the depths of fantasy.
More than just fairy tales, Miyazaki’s works convey important messages and themes. In Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away, the protagonists both learn to be independent of their parents and create identities of their own. Spirited Away shows the ugliness of gluttony when Chihiro’s parents eat until they literally become swine. In Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki places emphasis on the importance of nature and the detriments of industrialization. His multi-faceted antagonists show that the world is not simply black and white good versus evil. Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke in particular leave the viewer with an intense growth in imagination, a multitude of strange ideas to ponder, and an intense love for Miyazaki’s masterpieces.
– Christine Kim