International Writers Magazine: Film Space
Ghibli: Animated Magic
Ghibli is considered, worldwide, as being the leading light in
Japanese anime films. The men who founded the studio, Hayao Miyazaki
and Isao Takahata, have become synonymous with anime both in Japan
of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Whats the Story?
Considered as being among one of Miyazakis best works, Nausicaa
of the Valley of the Wind is the story of a world far in the future
that has been ravaged by war. The remaining humans fight a constant
battle against terrifying gigantic insect creatures and heavy pollution.
Nausicaa is the
Princess of the Valley of the Wind, which is a small peaceful settlement.
Her love of nature and her determination to understand the pollution
that has taken over the earth lead her into danger. Giant insect-like
creatures called Ohmu, mutated by the pollution that spread across the
earth, threaten to wipe out mankind if they are not left alone.What
is interesting about this film is the deep understanding that Miyazaki
has with the source material. Originally created as a manga (Japanese
for comic) by Miyazaki, the four-volume compendium is a staggering 1400
pages long. Miyazaki had reservations about creating a film out of his
comic series because he felt that it would be too difficult to adapt
and probably wouldnt work as an animated film. The popularity
of the comic series was so intense that the anime magazine, Animage,
was getting hundreds of letters a week inquiring about whether there
was going to be a film version or not. After giving into pressure from
Tokuma Shoten Company (a notable distributor and parent company of Studio
Ghibli) Miyazaki reluctantly accepted the proposal and transferred the
story to the big screen.
Probably the most major theme of the film is Miyazakis portrayal
of mankinds destruction of nature (a recurring theme through lots
of Miyazakis more pessimistic films). Around the time the film
was made there had been a huge disaster in Japan where masses of mercury
had been spilt into Minamata Bay. The resulting pollution meant that
the fish in the bay were inedible and thus were no longer fished. This
meant that over a few years there was a huge increase in the amount
of fish in the bay.
Talking to American novelist Ernest Callenbach in 1985, Miyazaki said
that he admired the toughness and resilience of other living creatures
that they could absorb the poisons humans create and continue to thrive.
This event could be seen as the inspiration for the wild Ohmu that threaten
to destroy Nausicaas people. The Ohmu act as an allegory for the
way man pollutes the earth yet certain species survive and in some cases
Nausicaa, the young Princess that the story follows, is an amalgamation
of different mythical and literal influences. When in early childhood
Miyazaki had read a traditional Japanese folklore called The Princess
Who Loved Insects. This is the story of a medieval Princess who was
obsessed with insects and was more interested in her studies of different
creatures than her duty as a Princess. Another influence that Miyazaki
claims helped him create the character of Nausicaa was the Phaeacian
princess of the same name, who rescued Odysseus in Homers epic
poem, which he had read in Bernard Evslins Dictionary of Grecian
Myths. So Nausicaa in Miyazakis film is really a hybrid of the
classical Greek Princess and the princess from the traditional Japanese
Castle in the Sky (1986)
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
iWhats the Story?
Set in an alternate nineteenth century, Laputa: Castle in the Sky
is the thrilling tale of a girl, Sheeta that literally falls from
the sky, but is saved by a magic crystal that is the key to her
ancestry. She is one of the only surviving descendants of Laputa,
a floating city in the sky that contains all the technological knowledge
of a long lost civilisation.
We follow Pazu
as he attempts to help his new friend, Sheeta, escape the clutches of
the government and pirates, who want her crystal to guide them to the
treasures of Laputa. Their adventure takes them flying through the sky
on enormous flying machines in their attempts to escape their pursuers.
Laputa: Castle in the Sky is officially Studio Ghiblis first
major release (although Nausicaa is made by the two directors it isnt
strictly a Ghibli production, but its success did lead to the
formation of the Studio). The opening section of the film is set in
lush valleys that are inhabited by simple, poor hard-working people
that provide for themselves by mining the local area. Miyazakis
portrayal of the people in the mining community bears mention as he
drew inspiration from a trip he made to Wales. He visited mining communities
in Wales and appreciated the working values of the people there. In
an interview in 1999 he said, "I was in Wales just after the miners
strike. I really admired the way the miners unions fought to the
very end for their jobs and communities, and I wanted to reflect the
strength of those communities in my film."
One of the main themes of the film is the corrupting influence technology
has on mankind. Miyazakis scepticism about science and technology
as tools of progress is often seen in his films. He draws comparisons
between the escalating technological advancement and the rising levels
of violence, greed and injustice, as well as detrimental damage to nature.
This is not to say that he distrusts technology but is unsure of mans
ability to use it wisely. Miyazakis films fit into a growing trend
in Japanese culture that has seen a new sense of cultural nostalgia.
After the Second World War, American forces occupied Japan. This brought
about a change in the countries beliefs and work ethos. There was a
distinct move towards progress in science and technological advancement,
and especially capitalism. This meant that there was a move away from
the deeply ritualistic past that Japan was known for. Over the past
couple of decades Japan has gone through an economic slump that has
made society look back on its past with a sense of cultural nostalgia.
This is prevalent in Miyazakis work, this idea of advancements
in technology moving too quickly for society to control.
of the Fireflys (1988)
Dir: Isao Takahata
Whats the Story?
Grave of the Fireflys is the heartrending story of two young
orphaned children whose lives are turned up side down by the Second
World War. The American bombing campaign against Japan takes their
mother, who is buried in their air-raid shelter after taking a direct
hit, and their father is away in the Navy fighting in the Pacific.
We follow Seita
and his little sister Setsuko as they attempt to survive after being
orphaned by the war. Their aunt takes them in but with food shortages
and rampant inflation, its not long before they are not wanted.
They run away and live in an isolated cave by the lakeside. We watch
their descent through starvation and gasp as we see their inevitable
fate unfold.Grave of the Fireflys is a deeply moving portrayal,
from a Japanese viewpoint, of the bombing of Japan during World War
II. Takahata adapted the story from Akiyuki Nosakas semi-autobiographical
graphic novel, which didnt actually have any comment on the specifics
of the conflict. At no point during the film does the narrative condemn
or condone the events that take place. There is no real enemy just the
consequences of actual events. That is what creates the atmosphere in
this film; the two young protagonists are the victims of circumstances
that are beyond their control. The futility of their struggle to survive
is evident straight away with the two main characters being introduced
as ghost that are lit in a dream-like scene surrounded by fireflys.
The fact that we are watching two young children spiral into homelessness
and eventually starvation has more resonance from a Japanese viewpoint.
In Japanese culture children are revered for their youth, they are seen
as the future and therefore have a high standing in Japanese culture.
So, the portrayal of two children in a desperate situation really heightens
the desperation of the story.
This film is expertly animated (credit going to the art-director, Yoshfumi
Kondo, who worked under Takahatas guidance but designed most of
the aesthetic), showing the two protagonists naively running through
the macabre background. This is a distinctly reserved piece of filmmaking
that doesnt attempt to make bold statements about who was right
or wrong, but simply attains to telling a powerful, yet simple story.
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki
Whats the Story?
Set in a typically Miyazaki-esque fantasy image of early twentieth
century Europe, Porco Rosso is the story of an ex-Italian fighter
pilot who, out of grief for the lose of his friends in battle, turns
his back on humanity and metamorphosiss into a pig.
The film is the
story of his fight against a menacing, but not too bright, group of
sky pirates. He is a hired mercenary, who patrols the skies whilst vying
for the attention of an attractive nightclub owner. However, he faces
competition from a brash American pilot who sees the women and the scalp
of the pig as trophies to take home with him.Miyazakis father
had worked in a government factory during the Second World War assembling
aircrafts. This has obviously had a major influence on his films as
he uses flying machines in lots of his most notable work, from the simple
glider that Nausicaa uses in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to
the gigantic flying fortress in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. So,
flying machines really are a passion of Miyazakis, which highlights
how much of a personal film Porco Rosso is to him. Asked about his inspiration
for the film in a interview in 1999 he said, " Bottom line, I like
that style of aircraft. Although I make films for children, that particular
film is really because I wanted to express my love for all those ships."
So, Porco Rosso is a very personal, indulgent film for Miyazaki, he
had always loved aircrafts and wanted to make a film that showcased
Although Miyazakis work is obviously pure escapism it is important
to look at the lead character in the film, Marco Porcello (who was once
a man but mysteriously changes into a pig) when looking for some sort
of cultural significance. Japan is an extremely competitive country
that is obsessed with youth; a stereotype that is prevalent through
out Japanese contemporary cinema is the tired middle-aged business
man. If you put this stereotype to the character of Marco you
see that the "pig" is actually a metaphor for a man who has
lost faith in mankind and has chosen to reject his own humanity. In
the English language version of the film Porco is actually transformed
through a magical spell; whereas according to the Japanese release,
and Miyazakis book The Art of Porco Rosso, Porco somehow
transforms himself because he has become disillusioned with war and
politics and the despair of fading into middle-age. This differing in
versions highlights the pertinence the character of Marco has in Japanese
culture. He is indicative of a section of society that is ostracised
because they are getting old and realising that they are seeping into
Gordon May 2006
David is a graduate from the University of Portsmouth
McCarthy, H. (1999). Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation. Berkley:
Stone Bridge Press.
Mes, T., & Sharp, J. (2005). The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese
Film. Berkley: Stone Bridge Press.
Martines, D. (ed). (1998). The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender,
Shifting Boundaries and Global Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Schilling, M. (1999). Contemporary Japanese Film. New York:Weatherhill
Osmond, A. (2006). Animated Japan: Empire. Issue 202, pp. 164
Miyazaki, H. (director). (1986). Laputa: Castle in the Sky. [motion
picture]. Japan: Tokuma Shoten.
Miyazaki, H. (director). (1984). Nausicaa of the valley of the Wind.
[motion picture]. Japan: Tokuma Shoten.
Miyazaki, H. (director). (1992). Porco Rosso. [motion picture]. Japan:
Takahata, I. (director). (1988). Grave of the Fireflys. [motion
picture]. Japan: Tokuma Shoten.
film in Film Space
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.