Exploring Loss in Miyazakiworld | a video essay

This video essay explores how different expressions of loss manifest in Miyazaki’s films, and why it’s critical to acknowledge how animation tackles grim themes, despite it commonly being trivialized as a light-hearted medium for children.

The essay content is inspired by Susan Napier’s observations in her book, Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art (2018), and the Hayao Miyazaki exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

“Miyazaki’s decision to go for a magical resolution to real-life trauma underlines one of [his] key messages: that belief in the powers of nature and the imagination will give us the strength to go beyond ourselves and transcend the traumas of daily life” (Napier 118).

Essay content written by: Jeremiah Raz, Elizabeth Bugtai, and Brandon James.

Edited by: Serena Chouhan.

8 thoughts on “Exploring Loss in Miyazakiworld | a video essay”

  1. Works Cited

    Napier, Susan. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. Yale University Press, 2018.

    Niebel, Susan, curator. Hayao Miyazaki. 30 Sept. 2021-5 June 2022, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Los Angeles.

    1. This is an intriguing essay, exploring a facet of work that animation rarely addresses. Though comics, manga, and graphic novels often touch on the darker side of humanity, animated films tend not to, which, as you point out, is likely due to the intended audience. By pulling in the older, “damsel-in-distress” Disney films, a nice contrast between animation’s acknowledged leader and its Ghibli counterpart was established.

  2. This is a very intriguing look at the “other” side of Miyazaki’s work. I enjoyed the wide variety of film clips included here, as well as the comparison to the early Disney works, which I agree, tended to focus on the “damsel-in-distress” theme. This is shown only peripherally in Miyazaki’s work, such as Laputa: Castle in the Sky, and is visible in Princess Mononoke as a male character (Ashitaka) saving a less willing female, Lady Eboshi. You are correct that loss is not generally the main theme in animation, and it was a refreshing way to revisit the films we covered this semester.

    1. I’d say a “damsel in distress” is key to both Future Boy Conan and Laputa. Also, to Miyazaki’s first feature film, the charming Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (which we have unfortunately neglected in our class). Though in every case the damsel exhibit real moral strength and determination, even when depending on a male “escort hero” to rescue her from captivity.

      I wonder if Ponyo might qualify as a damsel in distress, in addition to being a force of nature? 🙂

  3. Wow! A ton of great input from all three speakers and some seriously sweet editing! This was such a clean video essay. Great work!
    I was really happy with how you all were honing in on the way Miyazaki sneaks the heavier themes into his pieces (I’m using the word “sneak” kind of loosely, I know). It sounded a lot like what someone once told me about the fantasy-realism genre, and how it came about through South American author’s need to encode criticisms against their authoritarian governments within fictional narratives. They had to disguise their political opinions in worlds that were and were not their own world in order to get their message across without also being, you know, called upon in the late hours of night. In this way, fantasy-realism is an inherently subversive genre, and I think Miyazaki’s films are inherently subversive, too. I don’t often go into children’s animation films expecting a realistic depiction of the heavier moments in life, but since it is sown into Miyazaki’s plots so neatly, his films have that interstitial quality of being between child- and adult-themed. And like you all were talking about, that adds a further level of separation from his and Ghibli’s contemporaries.

  4. Hey, guys! This is so perceptive and topical! I love it! I am a huge fan of video essays as I watch them all the time during my leisure. You guys created the kind of video I would definitely watch on YouTube! It is theoretical, exploratory, investigative, and analytical! It is exquisite! I wish I knew how to make a video essay! It would be so much fun, but alas, I am limited by own inability to comprehend technology, haha. I want to tell you guys I love what you said about Miyazaki’s films communicating the message that we learn to coexist with loss rather than overcome it. Honestly, how can one overcome loss? I truly believe loss can never be overcome because you, sometimes, cannot do anything about it, and if there is nothing that can be done, then would that not define a state of sheer hopelessness and everlasting despair? And how can we overcome hopelessness? If you cannot do anything about something, then you are stuck in grief that will follow you for the rest of your life. That is my opinion. I think that Miyazaki’s films are way more mature than Disney’s because of how realistic their views on loss are. We do not defeat loss. We live in its world. Wonderful work!

  5. Wow, this was beautifully edited. One of the themes I’ve always been drawn to from Miyazaki’s films is that of loss. Like you mention in your video, the films are able to touch on all kinds of loss whether they are big or small or whether there’s an important lesson or not. I like Ghibli films because they have a way of making these heavier themes more accessible to children and at the same they complicate themes that we may take for granted. For my project, I also talked about loss and I focused on My Neighbor Totoro.

    I really appreciated the quick break down of many Ghibli films and even the criticism for Disney movies that are romance-centered and have flatly written female characters. In Miyazaki’s films the female characters are multi-dimensional, even the child protagonists. There’s something about watching Ghibli films that feels like a warm blanket on a cold day.

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