With Japanese auteur, manga artist, animator, and former Studio Ghibli co-chief Hayao Miyazaki celebrating his 75th birthday today, it is worth giving consideration to his influence over the past 50 years. While Ghibli is not the quite the world-wide corporate juggernaut that is Disney, nor is it the household name among children and families, the influence of Miyazaki (and Isao Takahata) on the art and creativity of the animated world is deeply entrenched. Pixar head John Lasseter (who is also the chief of all Disney animated projects) never misses an opportunity to praise Miyazakai-san as one of the key mentors and aspirations in the early days of storytelling at Pixar.
From his early work as an animator at Toei Studios where he worked on projects such as Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Future Boy Conan, Gulliver’s Travels, and significantly, the feature film Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro, which almost much as Tin Tin, was a key pre-cursor/analogue to Indiana Jones. From there, he worked with his friend co-worker, Takahata-san, to form Studio Ghibli and translate his sprawling manga, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds into an epic sized feature. Note at the bottom of this post, that several people have noted the similarities between scavenger-warrior-leader Nausicaa and The Force Awakens scavenger-soon-to-be-Jedi, Rey.
After the success of their first feature, Miyazaki and Takahata would go on to make parallel features in their new studio. Miyazaki the all time classic My Neighbor Totoro, perhaps the most universal movie about discovery and play ever made, while Takahata would make one of the greatest (and saddest) anti-war movies in the history of cinema, The Grave of the Fireflies. Miyazaki, for his entire career, ending with the biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, a designer Japanese planes the second World War, would come back again and again to themes of environmentalism, aviation, and the balance between self-reliance and social responsibility. These themes are often tacked in a fantasy setting, but their adult complexities made his animated features rather unique. He almost always had a girl as the protagonist which as exceptionally forwarding thinking in 1984, and was still unusual by the time he won the Animated Feature Oscar with his Alice In Wonderland / Wizard of Oz inspired masterpiece, Spirited Away. The epic adventure Princess Mononoke was the highest grossing movie in Japan until James Cameron’s Titanic.
Although the director only directed 8 animated features over the course of his time running Studio Ghibli, all of them are bonafide classics of animation. And while the future of Ghibli is uncertain after his retirement a few years ago (along with the retirement of Takahata-san a year later), he has left an impressive legacy, including the final Ghibli feature, 2014’s When Marnie Was There which often plays like a ‘grown-up’, melancholic version of My Neighbor Totoro.
Also worth checking out is the 2013 documentary on Miyazaki’s life and his working process, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.