Thursday, April 22, 2010
Maestro: Hayao Miyazaki
Known For: animated films, usually about children intersecting with the world of fantasy, and learning something in the process.
Influences:According to Miyazaki himself, authors Ursula K. Le Guin, Moebius, Roald Dahl, and of course, classic Japanese mythology.
Masterpieces: My Neighbor Toro and Spirited Away
Disasters: some of his films have been released in horribly edited American versions, though that's surely not his fault.
Better than you remember: Some of his lesser works tend to be under-appreciated despite being delightful in their own right. I'm thinking Porco Rosso here.
Awards: An Oscar in the states and a Golden Bear at Berlinale and lots more for Spirited Away
Box Office: Over 14 mil for Ponyo in a sure sign that the old master is still kickin' it.
A few years back, a friend and I introduced some of his little nephews to My Neighbor Totoro. They fell in love instantly (all is not lost!). Then it occurred to me how odd it must be for them. If they want Totoro (which they do often) they must return to the same film over and over and over. There's no set of 5 dozen additional Totoro made for DVD releases, no sing-along DVDs, learn to read books, or Totoro-themed toddler cell phones. Sure there's stuff, but it's minimal when compared to, lets say that small red monster whose godless name I shan't utter. In fact, the short film Mei and the Kittenbus which seems a perfect DVD extra, or at least that should be all over YouTube is still no where else to be found but the Studio Ghibli Museum. Hayao Miyazaki has done a better job keeping this short film from mass public consumption than George Lucas has done with the Star Wars Holiday Special. Why is this? Ask Miyazaki. He doesn't consider himself a marketer or a studio head or a peddler of mass culture. He considers himself a story teller and an animator. He doesn't need to return to the same character over and over because his stories, though they often explore similar themes, usually involving a child or youth coming to some maturity or understanding of the world through a fantastic adventure, always show us something new.
I should also mention, since this is Earth Day, that Miyazaki's films champion good care and appreciation of nature and the planet without ever attempting to guilt the viewer. He loves the natural world and through his use of fantasy worlds, finds ways to present it as a beautiful reality (which it is.) What is Miyazaki's next move? Rumor is he has something in the works, and I'm not surprised. He's been "retiring" for over ten years, yet keeps finding stories he wants to tell. Whatever he comes up with next, it'll probably be an exuberant flight, a story of children growing up that we adults can watch and feel young again.