Hayao Miyazaki: Auteur Essay
1138 WordsFeb 23rd, 20135 Pages
“I never read reviews. I'm not interested. But I value a lot the reactions of the spectators.”- Hayao Miyazaki.
The director is responsible for overseeing creative aspects of a film. They develop the vision for a film and carry the vision out, deciding how the film should look. The director may also be heavily involved in the writing and editing of the film, as well as managing the script into a sequence of shots, coordinating the actors in the film and supervising musical aspects. The Auteur Theory suggests that films contain certain characteristics or ‘signatures’ that reflect the director’s individual style and give a film its personal and unique stamp. Hayao Miyazaki is one such auteur whose entertaining plots, compelling characters…show more content…
Miyazaki’s childhood was short as he was born January 5, 1941 during World War II, thus without exception, his films main characters are children, deal with growing up and often consist of one young female lead and one young male lead. This is evident in My Neighbor Totoro (1988) as the two main characters are young girls who, unlike adults, can see and befriend the spirits of the spirit world. In Spirited Away (2001), the leading character Chihiro is a young girl who must deal with growing up, similarly to Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). Princess Mononoke (1997) also features these stock characters in the form of young San, adopted daughter of the wolf goddess Moro and Prince Ashitaka, a young girl and boy. Hayao Miyazaki has expressed strong feelings about childhood, saying that it's a paradisiacal time when, "you're protected by your parents and unaware of the problems around you". Miyazaki’s upbringing during World War II would explain another unique mark of his films, that being his interest in flight.
Human flight is a frequent theme in Miyazaki’s animations. This theme is found in almost every film directed by him such as in Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) as it is a flying metropolis and in Kiki’s Delivery Service as Kiki rides her broomstick and watches dirigibles fly over her city. In Spirited Away, Chihiro soars across the sky as she rides on Haku's back when he is in dragon form. The critically acclaimed Howl’s
It is the last year of the Second World War. American bombers drop napalm canisters on Kobe, Japan, setting the picturesque city of wood, canvas, and paper alight. A young mother is caught in the conflagration, suffers greatly, then succumbs to her disfiguring burns. With the father fighting at sea, her adolescent son Seita must fend for himself and for his 5-year old sister Setsuko as famine stalks the country. In spite of all his efforts, Seita must watch as Setsuko, an imaginative, fun-loving child, becomes emaciated, sickens, weakens, and eventually dies of malnutrition.
This is the story told in Studio Ghibli’s 1988 animated film Grave of the Fireflies, and it is no less harrowing and haunting for being a “cartoon.” As Roger Ebert wrote in his 4-star review:
“‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation. (…) ‘Grave of the Fireflies’ is a powerful dramatic film that happens to be animated, and I know what the critic Ernest Rister means when he compares it to ‘Schindler’s List’ and says, ‘It is the most profoundly human animated film I’ve ever seen.’ (…)
Yes, it’s a cartoon, and the kids have eyes like saucers, but it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made.”
The director Isao Takahata has denied its characterization as an anti-war film. But as Clint Eastwood has said, “any war told realistically is an anti-war movie.” And Fireflies is unsparing in its portrayal of the realities of war, especially for being based on a semi-autobiographical novel, whose author lost his adoptive father to the firebombing of Kobe and afterward had to watch his baby sister Keiko die of hunger.
Kobe was only one of the 67 Japanese cities burned by the United States Air Force, under the direction of Curtis LeMay. Nicknamed “the Demon,” LeMay was instrumental in the US shift from high-altitude bombing with general purpose explosives to the low-altitude incendiary bombing of Japanese cities that resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and the famine-inducing ruination of the economy. He later became a tireless advocate for bombing Vietnam, as he put it, “back to the Stone Age,” and for bombing the whole world back to the Ice Age by launching a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union.
LeMay also oversaw and championed the enforcement of the total blockade of Japan by filling the waters around its port cities with aerial-dropped mines, which, for example, caused shipping through Kobe to plummet by 85%. This campaign was dubbed, with a refreshing lack of hypocrisy, “Operation Starvation.” Thus, the starvation of little Setsuko/Keiko was not “collateral damage,” but a premeditated murder.
When Leslie Stahl asked Madeline Albright about the half-million Iraqi children deprived to death by US sanctions (“more children than died in Hiroshima”), the then Secretary of State famously answered “we think the price is worth it.” Of course elite war-bringers like LeMay and Albright do not themselves pay the “prices” they decide are acceptable. The costs of their decisions are externalized onto the victims of their economic and shooting wars.
Fireflies tells the story of two children who actually paid the “price.” That is why it is such a powerfully anti-war film regardless of the director’s intentions. It tells the story of war realistically from the perspective of its most vulnerable victims, as opposed to just the “derring-do” of fighters. And that is more than enough to inspire any decent human being to curse the name of war upon watching it. More specifically, it will move any heart not corrupted and hardened by nationalism to look on policies like the Israeli blockade of Gaza, US sanctions on Iran, and the new Saudi blockade of Yemen, as the infanticidal atrocities they are.
Takahata co-founded Studio Ghibli with Hayao Miyazaki, and the anti-war message in Miyazaki’s work is more subtle, yet also much more deliberate.
In western fantasy, wars are traditionally depicted as worthy struggles between unalloyed good and pure evil, with the protagonist firmly on the side of the angels and against the devils. Even The Lord of the Rings trilogy falls victim to this tendency, as George R.R. Martin has pointed out. In Miyazaki’s fantasies, however, wars are portrayed as senseless and horrible. The heroes are generally not on either side of the war, but are caught between the two. And their struggle is not to win the war, but to defuse it.
The characters who pursue war — generally government officials — are portrayed as vainglorious and arrogant schemers who rashly court cataclysm for the sake of their grandiose ambitions.
Yet even these antagonists are not treated as devils, but as deeply flawed human beings. The heroes do not harbor vendettas and thirst for vengeance against them, as the typical western action hero does. Rather, the heroes try to convince them to abandon their disastrous plans, while also striving to foil those plans directly. The climax of the film comes not with the hero impaling or detonating his foe, as in so many Hollywood movies, or in the villain falling to his doom, as in so many Disney animated films. Miyazaki’s heroes achieve victory, not through the destruction of their enemies, but by foiling their plans enough such that the belligerents finally relent. The loving and forgiving attitude of the hero sometimes even prevails to the point of converting villains into friends.