In this podcast, Taylor Bongiovi and Marja Ziemer discuss aviation and flight in four Miyazaki films. Some issues brought up include: romance and aviation, the magical joy of flight, gender roles and aviation, and the commodification and weaponization of flight.
By: Gisselle Olmedo, Malena Segovia, Maria Vargas, and Azya Feeney
To share the love and experience of Miyazaki films we wanted to target an audience of people that are new to them. Our goal is to link other popular media to a Miyazaki film and encourage people to dive deeper into Miyazaki’s work. Showing them that the films aren’t just “cartoons.”
We used popular TikTok trends and audios to help reach out to a larger audience. One example of this is the Zodiac signs trend. We compared popular Miyazaki Films to Zodiac Signs that we believed to emulate each other. The purpose of the zodiac videos is to get people who are interested in the horoscope to be more invested in Hayao Miyazaki. Our hope is that people will either resonate with what we suggested or argue, either way, it would start a conversation and possible send some people to watch the films and question why is this movie – their zodiac.
We also wanted to reach the Western audience that tends to be afraid of foreign films. To approach this we created a series that compares a popular movie to a Miyazaki Film. Hoping to show them the similarities that they have and create interest in the works of Hayao Miyazaki.
To also have a variety of content on the account we added artwork that was created by one of our fabulous group members. In the video we can see ceramics that were inspired by Miyazaki. Showing that his movies reach to every corner of the world in inpiration.
In these Tiktok posts and videos, we wanted to connect Hayao Miyazaki’s works to recent trends to help accumulate attention to them. We were inspired to use TikTok to spread the love that we have for Miyazaki after visiting the Hayao Miyazaki Exhibition. Within the rooms we were able to create a connection to the films that reached deep into our hearts and childhoods. So in using TikTok, one of the most popular platforms currently, we aimed to spread the memories and connection that we gained through his films and the museum.
In two of the posts, we used the common trend of matching zodiac signs to different Miyazaki movies. The decisions of which sign go to which movie are our opinion and not based on anything from Miyazaki himself. Another video is from ceramics works that were made by one of us based on his movies. The movies included are Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro.
Miyazaki’s work appeals to such a wide range of people for such diverse reasons, and it means something different to all of them. Part of this is because he is capable of telling a wide variety of stories: one of his films is about the disgraced prince of a forgotten people traveling to distant lands to view the world with “eyes unclouded,” another is about two girls who meet a forest spirit after moving to the countryside because of their mother’s illness. In those two movies are a multitude of stories and ideas and most people who have watched these films have experienced them in a specific and powerful way. His work and what it means to not only his audience, but himself is a fun topic to discuss and think about, so I’ll be discussing different connections between his films that I have thought about. For fun!
Miyazaki’s oeuvre is vast, so it can be easy to overlook a lot of his work. I can only promise to discuss what I have seen (which is most of his post-70s work), so to anyone who wants to see Sherlock Hound talked about at length, I’m sorry.
Cagliostro is easy to see as Miyazaki’s strange, initial foray into a foreign franchise before flying off to do bigger and better things, but he had worked on the first Lupin III show (it had been his television directorial debut) and was well into his career when he directed his first film which happened to star the roguish descendant of Arsène Lupin (a now obscure yet influential serialized French thief character). Miyazaki had vastly altered Lupin’s characterization when he came onto the show, moving the character away from the James Bond-esque apathetic cool badass and imbuing him with a subtle depth, depicting him almost as a thief folk hero (an entire book could probably be written about how Miyazaki altered the character and franchise, but that extends too far outside the realm of Miyazaki for right now). In Miyazaki’s mind, Cagliostro was clearly the end of his time on Lupin, so it serves as an epilogue to the canceled first Lupin III series. The first film for any director can be quite an endeavor, with a lot of stumbling blocks, but Miyazaki, hot off of his time on TV, made it look easy, completing it in four months at the expense of his and his co-workers’ sanity. What came out of this furiously creative time in Miyazaki’s life was still a Miyazaki film through and through, but it is also framed as the end of the relationship between Miyazaki and the Lupin III franchise (though he would return to it in small ways later into his career). Even Miyazaki’s first movie can be seen as the end of something.
The film starts with a heist pulled by Lupin and his best friend Jigen, in which they steal a large amount of cash before discovering that they are counterfeit bills produced by the Count of Cagliostro. Thus, Lupin and Jigen venture to the Count’s domain. This seems like some classic Lupin III fare, but the opening credits of Cagliostro are atmospheric and solemn in contrast to the whimsical fun foretold in the preceding scene. The film proceeds, incorporating Lupin III characters like Zenigata, Goemon, and Mine Fujiko to varying degrees of relevance, and story wise, it is very similar to early episodes of the series (not directed by Miyazaki and Takahata) in which Lupin demonstrates his affection for some innocent girl until he has to watch her die or something. The difference with Cagliostro is that Lupin is no longer the young thief pining after the beautiful doomed woman, but an older man desperate to protect a last vestige of humanity. It is not romantic; it is more similar to Porco’s relationship with Fio than Pazu’s relationship with Sheeta. The film ends with Lupin victorious, but his past clings to him. When Clarisse asks to come with him, Lupin refuses her and leaves. Comparisons can also be made between Lupin’s leaving Clarisse and Miyazaki’s leaving television for his film career and the formation of Studio Ghibli (as well as Miyazaki’s neglect for his private life in favor of his work). The film can be seen as a final statement on Lupin III from Miyazaki: he is a young hotshot who will regret his past after realizing the futility of his craft, but will refuse to burn out because being a thief is all he can ever imagine himself doing. Planes fly overhead as Lupin drives off into his future.
Because of the finality of Miyazaki’s feature film debut, it can be interesting to compare it to Kaze Tachinu, his last film (at least until Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka). The film immediately preceding Kaze Tachinu was Ponyo, which Miyazaki had based on his own family. Notably, the father is absent in Ponyo, always away at sea, having to communicate with his wife and son in Morse code from a faraway ship. Here, Miyazaki distances the father from the son, a reality of his own household, which he neglected in favor of his art. Sōsuke’s father is distant from the story of Ponyo, and it is evident that Miyazaki made the film about, and perhaps for, his son. It is only fitting, then, that Miyazaki would make Kaze Tachinu for himself. Kaze Tachinu, or The Wind Rises, is dense with Miyazaki’s feelings of retrospect: he had said numerous times that he was making his final film, but it seemed as though Kaze Tachinu was the apotheosis of all of Miyazaki’s dreams, aspirations, ideas — it takes place in Japan on the cusp of the Pacific War, finally directly depicting the destruction which haunted Miyazaki and his generation.
Miyazaki depicts the brutal effects of the war on Japan through the lens of Horikoshi Jirō, the man responsible for designing the planes employed by the Japanese in the war. Jirō was perfect for Miyazaki to project himself onto; the building of planes in Kaze Tachinu is very similar to Miyazaki’s animation in that the artistry of the process must be backed by technical prowess. Miyazaki has always been a technician, and in Horikoshi, he had discovered a muse. Furthering this comparison between Miyazaki and Horikoshi is the casting of Anno Hideaki as Horikoshi Jirō. Anno is an animator who had worked with Miyazaki in the past, though he is more famous as the creator of the massively popular Evangelion franchise. Anno is known for his distaste for the modern anime culture that played a large part in building (and rebuilding), a sentiment that Miyazaki has echoed in interviews and in his work. The casting of Anno as Horikoshi can be seen as the casting of a regretful and bitter artist (Anno) as a regretful and bitter artist (Horikoshi) by a regretful and bitter artist (Miyazaki). Kaze Tachinu is a portrait of an artist whose ambition and hubris resulted in the most catastrophic outcome imaginable. The film ends with a scene of Jirō traversing a field of broken planes as more fly overhead into the horizon, towards their destruction. Jirō sees a mirage of his late wife before she is blown away by the gale.
Cagliostro seems almost to foreshadow Miyazaki’s career in retrospect. By his last film, he has become Lupin: tired, but incapable of expressing himself in any way outside of his work. Kaze Tachinu serves almost as a mirror to Cagliostro; it is almost as though Miyazaki was afraid of what would happen from the very beginning.
Miyazaki is most well known for his depictions of children and young adults; that is to say he often refrains from depicting characters that are too close to himself in demographic. Lupin and Jirō, on the other hand, clearly represent Miyazaki at different periods of his life. Miyazaki’s films are all reflections of himself, but these two movies (and to a lesser extent Porco Rosso) feel more direct than the rest of his work. This is not to say, however, that his other work is any less personal than these films.
Lupin and Jirō are easy to interpret as reflections of Miyazaki, but they are a minority in Miyazaki’s overall oeuvre. Most of the protagonists in Miyazaki’s films are young women, and it is interesting to consider their evolution over the course of his early career.
The first proper Miyazaki girl put to screen was Lana in Miyazaki’s first show, Mirai Shōnen Conan, and she reads almost as a prototype for the characters that would follow her. Lana serves as both foil and romantic lead for Conan; she is more knowledgeable and socially aware than he is while still respecting and admiring his strength and resourcefulness. She is also endowed with the unique power of telepathy, which she uses to speak to birds as well as Conan. Much of Conan’s early quest is dedicated to rescuing Lana from the clutches of evil because she is all he has left after the death of his grandfather. Both she and Conan feel drawn to one another, and Miyazaki goes to great lengths to ensure that both children are incorruptible in their intentions and actions. Lana in particular is portrayed as a kind of angel, a beacon of hope, who lifts Conan from his hermetic existence on his lone island. Lana’s purity will be echoed and tested in the rest of Miyazaki’s work.
There is another major woman in Conan: Monsley. Monsley begins the show as a loyal servant of Industria, a city run on machinery and slave labor. She is rude, disagreeable, and hard headed partly because she was orphaned by the apocalypse when she was young. She learns not to underestimate the strength and resourcefulness of children early on, and is redeemed by the end of the series. Monsley is much more complicated than Lana, and her complexity can be attributed to Miyazaki’s complicated relationship with his mother. Miyazaki spent a lot of time with his mother, who was often bedridden due to tuberculosis. She was also intensely disagreeable. Notably, she was heavily right wing, which led to arguments between herself and her famously leftist son; the director is said to have been brought to tears at the dinner table due to arguments with his mother. Miyazaki’s complicated relationship with his mother ripples out across all of his work, and likely heavily informed Monsley’s characterization.
Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro’s Clarisse can be compared to Lana: a kind, pure-hearted girl whom the main character must save, though Clarisse is not depicted as a romantic counterpart to Lupin in the way that Lana is to Conan — rather, Lupin feels as though he owes a debt to her, as she had saved his life a long time ago. Clarisse trades Lana’s telepathy for a royal bloodline, as she is the princess of Cagliostro, and this is presented as more of a burden than a blessing, as her status is the reason she is being targeted by the Count of Cagliostro. Clarisse, like Lana, represents hope, but it is a different hope: whereas Lana represents the hope for Conan to explore past the bounds of his island, Clarisse represents the hope that Lupin has not forsaken his humanity in his pursuit of thievery.
Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä was an important step for Miyazaki: though he had debuted with Cagliostro, Nausicaä was his first original film. Many will point to the Nausicaa manga as the definitive telling of this story, but I feel as though the film simply presents viewers with a different experience. Whereas the manga ran for more than a decade and encompassed years of Miyazaki’s evolution as an artist and draftsman, the film represents a particular time in Miyazaki’s life: he was untethered from television and angry (about a lot of things) and wanted to put all of his ideas into his first original film. The result is that Nausicaä feels almost religious in its grandiosity. The Nausicaä manga offers a much more complex and arguably deeper story than the film, but the film stands alongside the AKIRA film as a spiritual apocalyptic statement from an artist ready to let loose. Nausicaä the film has far less time than the manga to flesh out its world and characters, so Miyazaki doesn’t necessarily try to do that. Nausicaä the manga feels like a chronicle of war, while the movie feels like an epic story torn out of an ancient text.
Nausicaä could be said to have been a much better explored and developed character in the manga, but I feel as though her place in the film as a motherly messianic figure differs heavily from her manga counterpart’s more morally complex portrayal. Nausicaä in the film is depicted with a reverence that is uncommon for Miyazaki. She is morally virtuous and selfless, both mentally and physically formidable — unlike Lana or Clarisse, Nausicaä is an active participant, though that does not stop her from being a beacon of hope. In fact, Miyazaki goes even further with the association in this film, as Nausicaä could be interpreted almost as a religious figure whom followers could flock to; numerous moments in the film outline Nausicaä’s incorruptible and otherworldly demeanor, such as when she allows Teto to bite her in order to endear herself to him, or when she removes her mask in the Sea of Decay. Her walk through the golden tentacles of the Ohm at the end of the film fulfills a prophecy, as the wise blind lady of the Valley of the Wind compares her to the blue-clad figure in the golden field foretold to be the savior of the world. Like Clarisse, Nausicaä is a princess, but she is a different kind of princess: whereas Clarisse’s royal lineage served only to chain her, Nausicaä regards her royalty with a sense of responsibility.
Princess Kushana of Tolmekia is Nausicaä’s foil: Nausicaä is the princess of a secluded village while Kushana is the princess of an imperialist kingdom of war mongers. Nausicaa is all loving and peaceful, Kushana is harsh and cunning. Everything about Kushana’s initial design projects strength, with her metallic golden armor looming heavily over every other figure in the room. Kushana is soon revealed to have lost an arm to an Ohm, similarly to Monsley having lost her family to the destruction wrought by the apocalypse. If Nausicaä is a descendant of Lana, Kushana is most definitely a reincarnation of Monsley; their tragic histories make them sympathetic even as they remain morally dubious. A big difference between Kushana and Monsley is that Kushana is not necessarily redeemed: she continues to act of her own accord even after being rescued by Nausicaä, even summoning an incomplete God Warrior to fend off an Ohm attack. Kushana leaves the Valley of the Wind at the end of the film physically unscathed, but she is changed by her experience with Nausicaä.
Tenkū no Shiro Laputa, known in English as Castle in the Sky, is Miyazaki treading old ground. It was the first film made by Miyazaki after the proper formation of Studio Ghibli, and the first film for the studio overall. Laputa feels thoroughly exciting and yet familiar, as Miyazaki incorporates elements of his past work (the child leads and industrial antagonists of Conan, the thieving adventurous tone of Lupin, the vast backstory and world of Nausicaä) with an astonishing level of technical prowess. Sheeta and Pazu greatly resemble Lana and Conan to the extent that one could almost call Laputa a condensed remake of Conan (doves are even associated with Sheeta’s arrival, just as with Lana). Sheeta is once again a princess, but a meeker, less active one than Nausicaä. She also has special powers akin to Lana’s telepathy, manifested through her stone which responds to danger.
The red-haired successor to Monsley and Kushana is the sky pirate Captain Dola. Dola is much older than Monsley and Kushana, and is only really tangentially comparable to the two, but it seems to be a noteworthy comparison nonetheless, as Dola also recalls Miyazaki’s mother as a rowdy and sometimes disagreeable yet maternal figure in the film. Laputa is the end of this more linear, traceable evolution, as Miyazaki shifted from epic coming of age adventure stories to slice of life films with Tonari no Totoro.
After having watched all of Miyazaki’s movies, I realized that his filmography from Conan onward could be organized into a rough series of 4 trilogies. I don’t mean to imply any intent on the part of Miyazaki; this is just a fun way I found to contextualize his work:
Miyazaki’s first trilogy is the adventure trilogy, which is composed of Mirai Shōnen Conan, Lupin III: Cagliostro no Shiro, and Tenkū no Shiro Laputa. These three works are all coming of age adventures that feel romantic and nostalgic; they also have similar antagonists, with Laputa’s Muska feeling almost like a combination between Conan’s Industrian dictator Lepka and Cagliostro’s despicable Count of Cagliostro. All three are heavily nostalgic for a lost past: the world before the apocalypse in Conan, the beautiful destroyed Roman city beneath the lake of Cagliostro, the now overrun technopolitan metropolis of Laputa. These works gaze longingly at the past, while also being wary of its destructive nature. They are also heavily influenced by older stories such as the work of Jules Verne, so in that way, Miyazaki himself is looking back at old work that evokes nostalgia for both him and us. Lana, Clarisse and Sheeta feel almost identical; perhaps this particular Miyazaki girl is another aspect which ties these works together.
Following the adventure trilogy is the slice-of-life trilogy, and it includes Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro), Majo no Takkyūbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service), and Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso). These films are largely told in what feels like a series of vignettes which culminate in a larger final segment. Totoro is Miyazaki’s first film in this style, and it was definitely a departure from his (then) recent work, but his work on slice of life TV anime like Alps no Shōjo Heidi and Akage no Anne shows that he is no stranger to it. It is notable that he was making these films while he was also writing the latter portion of the Nausicaä manga; perhaps he was letting out his more fantastic and apocalyptic imagery in that manga while making calmer, more relaxing movies.
Interestingly, the leads of these films seem to increase in age demographic as they progress, from Mei (4) and Satsuki (10) to the teenaged Kiki to the much older Porco. These films all feel like depictions of everyday life, so it is interesting to view the wide assortment of perspectives. Totoro depicts a transitional period in the lives of Satsuki and Mei when they move out to the countryside with their father to be closer to the hospital housing their sick mother (tuberculosis?). The film takes place in the 1950s, evoking a kind of nostalgia. Kiki also captures a transitional period: Kiki must set off from her home village at the age of 13 and live alone. Porco Rosso, the climax of this trilogy, serves as an interesting midpoint between Cagliostro and Kaze Tachinu, as it is the only Miyazaki film other than those two to star an olderman. Miyazaki is able to directly communicate through Porco in a way that he was incapable of with characters that he had to view at a distance like Kiki and Satsuki. In a way, Porco Rosso also feels like a transitional state in that it feels like a goodbye to this era of Miyazaki; he was only two years from completing his Nausicaä manga, and he was about ready to make another angry, feral film. Porco Rosso takes place at the cusp of a huge transition: the start of World War II. Perhaps Miyazaki ended this era in this way to foreshadow the carnage that he would let loose in Mononoke-hime.
The third trilogy is the fairy tale trilogy, and it is composed of Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away), Howl no Ugoku Shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) and Gake no Ue no Ponyo. These films are all loosely tied to a fairy tale, and they all feel like fables. Spirited Away is easy to compare to Alice in Wonderland, as they are stories about ordinary girls being sucked into fantastic worlds with a number of specific rules and customs to obey; Yubaba in particular is comparable to the Queen of Hearts, especially when she basically forces Chihiro into a trial at the end of the film. Howl is Beauty and the Beast with a twist: Sophie is insecure about her appearance, and is cursed with old age, while the seemingly beautiful Howl hides his true monstrous raven form. Maybe this was Miyazaki’s way of evening the playing field. Ponyo is based on The Little Mermaid, and this is probably the most direct of the trilogy in its inspiration, as the film refers back to the fairy tale with mentions of Ponyo being turned to seafoam if Sōsuke does not love her. This trilogy feels as though Miyazaki is experimenting; Spirited Away represents a further foray into the world of computer technology after Mononoke-hime, and Howl blends computer and traditional animation even further with the design and movement of the titular castle. Ponyo, however, completely eschewed computer animation and experimented with a style resembling children’s books, with thick linework and light shading. Interestingly, Miyazaki actually wanted his next film to be a sequel to Ponyo, but he would make Kaze Tachinu instead.
The fourth and final Miyazaki trilogy is his apocalypse trilogy; though most if not all of Miyazaki’s work contains apocalyptic themes, I believe these three to be the most directly apocalyptic in scope and subject matter. The three films are Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä, Mononoke-hime, and Kaze Tachinu, all of which contain some catastrophe: in Nausicaä, it is the Ohm attack and awakening of the God Warrior; in Mononoke it is the severing of the Deer God’s head and the subsequent destruction of Irontown; and in Kaze Tachinu, it is the completion of Jirō’s fighter plane and the desolation that his planes would bestow upon the world. This trilogy differs in that the films are staggered across Miyazaki’s filmography and thus represent different periods in his life. Nausicaä and Mononoke both begin with text detailing the background of the world to signal the grand nature of the story. Kaze Tachinu begins with a quote. “The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!” feels as though it encompasses Miyazaki’s entire filmography; echoes of it can be found in all of his films. In Nausicaä and Mononoke specifically, the quote is especially relevant, particularly in Mononoke-hime, whose ending (in which Ashitaka remarks “Together, we’ll live.”) seems to almost foreshadow the quote’s presence in Miyazaki’s final film.
His final film, that is, until his next one.
Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka is the title of Miyazaki’s next film, (translated in English as How Do You Live?) based on the 1937 novel by Yoshino Genzaburo, and it will represent Miyazaki at the tail end of his career. This film will recontextualize the rest of Miyazaki’s filmography (particularly Kaze Tachinu) and I am so excited to see what Kimi-tachi wa Dō Ikiru ka will be. I have read a bit of the book, and it focuses on the idea that lives are not separate; our own personal journeys are affected by other people to the extent that everybody is a part of someone else.
Video by: Ben Lee Text by: Noah Kang
Napier, Susan. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. Yale University Press, 2018.
Miyazaki, Hayao. Starting Point: 1979-1996. Translated by Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt, VIZ Media, 2018.
Miyazaki, Hayao. Turning Point: 1997-2008. Translated by Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt, VIZ Media, 2021.
Experiencing Studio Ghibli films from my youth has almost been a fever dream. While revisiting those I have seen and those I have not seen before, to relish in a childhood wonder has somewhat remained. The sounds of trees brushing against the wind and the sight of blue skies filled with white clouds. One can think of poetry in a form of animated art. To enter these films for the first time or by revisiting, the immersion to simply being in the film will always be the same. By seeing any of these films, you enter the world Miyazaki created.
After visiting the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the amazement of seeing Hayao Miyazaki’s concept art in the exhibit was quite surreal and an emotional experience. In some sense, one may seem to be entering his own mind. Entering the mind of Hayao Miyazaki is both a blessing and an undeserving privilege through the concept art, images of maps, miniature models, and projections of the films. Everything in the exhibit was something new as most of these creations I have not seen before. This exhibit offered so much more, yet I wanted more. For the man himself, his complexity would only want me to wonder more about Miyazaki himself. Yet again, I wouldn’t want to be that person to intrude on such a mind.
As someone who is just a student of poetry, I don’t consider myself a professional. Merely, it is the willingness to create art from the art that inspires. I have chosen to write haikus for all his films: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and The Wind Rises.
For Porco Rosso and The Wind Rises, I especially focused on these haikus to be allegories for Hayao Miyazaki.
Lastly, I leave this poem as a tribute to the man himself:
“It is not hard to imagine…the inner turmoil as a fifty-one-year-old man looking back at his life and forward to what will come” (Napier 153).
Susan Napier describing Miyazaki in Porco Rosso
Feel free to comment and share your thoughts on your favorite poem and your experience of any Miyazaki film.
Napier, Susan. Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. Yale University Press, 2018.
I was eager with excitement; the first time going back to a museum since lockdown, and there was an exhibit with some of my favorite films! The Academy Award Museum in DTLA was ambitious enough to put on an exhibit solely dedicated to director Hayao Miyazaki’s work. I was thrilled at the array of art, sketches, and clips from beloved Studio Ghibli films. It was a feast for the eyes; walls covered in hand painted backgrounds, displays of careful sketches and concept art. The exhibit was a captivating experience, as if stepping into the inner workings of Miyazaki’s mind. Visitors saw the careful vision and process behind Studio Ghibli films. I was left with a full heart, but I was also left wondering what items did not make it into the exhibit. I wondered what items would have added to the experience. Of the few hand-drawn sketches, I had thought about concept art from my favorite movie, Howl’s Moving Castle. It is not so common knowledge that Howl’s Moving Castle was first the first novel in a series written by Diana Wynne Jones in 1986. It’s subject matter still emersed in the realm of fantasy lends inspiration to Miyazaki’s film. However, there are stark differences between these two works. What interests me is that throughout the Ghibli exhibit, there was a lack of concept art and sketches pertaining to works that were adapted from literature. With my curiosity peaked, it led me to question:
How much from the book does Miyazaki borrow for his film?
What elements from the novel were important in maintaining his aesthetic?
How similar or different are the film’s protagonists from the novel?
Miyazaki’s art style and film aesthetic are distinct in that he borrows from science fiction elements. In films like Howl’s Moving Castle the lines between fantasy and science fiction blur, creating a body of work that speaks to the theme of finding love amidst war. To understand how Miyazaki adapted literature to film requires an understanding of his aesthetic along with his interpretation of fantasy.
Understanding Miyazakiworld in the Context of Howl’s
“…Miyazakiworld, the immersive animated realm that carries delightfully from film to film but is always marked by the director’s unique imagination.”
To understand the fantastical elements of Howl’s, we need to go back and recognize central themes in what makes up the Miyazakiworld aesthetic. When I’ve thought about my favorite Ghibli films, a wave of nostalgia takes over me. I forget about my favorite scenes, or the lines that were spoken; however, I remember some of the feelings I first had and continue to have when I watch these films:
I’ve come to understand that Miyazaki’s films are very much rooted in the idea that however fleeting, his films make us want to look inward. His films bring forth a lighthearted calmness about the world we live in, and somehow it makes us want to reflect on those feelings or moments in our lives as well. To better grasp some of these elements, we also have to look at how his aesthetic shows up in Howl’s Moving Castle.
“…it is often females who lead us through end times.”
A common theme among Ghibli movies is the idea of war, or post-apocalyptic scenarios. Napier attributes this inspiration to the painful history of Japan and Miyazaki’s childhood at the end of World War II. Interestingly, in Ghibli films that did feature war, Miyazaki has often placed female characters at the forefront of catastrophe. Rather than focus on war as a primary focus in his films, it becomes a backdrop for his characters to develop. In Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the protagonist Nausicaa assumes the task of restoring a war-torn world. It is not what Nausicaa does to rescue her people, the empathy the audience ends up having for her comes from her caring and nurturing spirit. As she displays an empathy for all living creatures, Nausicaa serves as a blueprint for Miyazaki’s female characters in later Ghibli films. As Napier remarks, we see that Nausicaa’s motherly, caring persona is attributed to Miyazaki’s late mother. In facing the trials of war, Miyazaki’s female characters display a higher moral conscience to care for those close to them in times of strife.
“…that almost mystical combination of courage, acceptance, and joy is the emotional core of Miyazakiworld. While Miyazaki’s vision has darkened over time, Miyazakiworld is still a realm where hope triumphs over despair.”
As for Howl’s Moving Castle, we also see the theme of war as a backdrop for his female protagonist Sophie. As we follow her journey, she is continuously being thrown into the middle of conflict. From her run in with powerful witches, a faceoff with the King’s army, and surviving an air raid, Miyazaki’s protagonist accepts the hand dealt to her and leads with courage to protect her loved ones. In this sense, Miyazaki’s protagonist still assumes their role in a war by relying on a motherly instinct to navigate danger. In scenes that focus so heavily on the brutality of war, Miyazaki’s protagonists find the righteousness to also lead with compassion for others. Something that both Sophie and Nausicaa share: their ability to express compassion within their war-torn, crumbling worlds.
“…the worldview that Miyazaki reflects in his films depicts human as an inseparable part of nature.”
1, Mumcu and Yilmaz
The second and quite arguably the most important of Miyazakiworld aesthetic is the relationship Miyazaki’s characters have with nature. Regarding Miyazaki’s aesthetic, Ghibli movies include scenes of nature or humans coexisting with nature to illustrate their interconnectedness. Miyazaki’s characters understand that they are not the only inhabitants of their world and show a deep respect and appreciation for the environment. Nature is also used as a tool for intellectual reflection; older audiences may resonate and reflect on the roles they play on a global and environmental scale. Regardless of age, nature has allowed Miyazaki’s characters to step aside from themselves to think about how they interact with others. His characters understand the natural world by thinking of how they are potentially contributing to or hindering their environments.
“These films provide a mechanism for provoking and contributing to debates concerning environmentalism and offer audiences a way to find meaning about human life and our place in a wider interconnected web of ontological existence”
4, Mumcu and Yilmaz
Sophie’s reflection by the lake shows a contrast to earlier Ghibli films where his characters interact with nature to achieve a common goal. Rather in this scene, Sophie is interacting with nature to think about her perception of herself and the world she lives in. Thinking of her own mortality she remarks, “When you’re old, all you want to do is stare at the scenery. It’s so strange, I’ve never felt so peaceful before” (0:41:17). Her relationship with nature is something she understands to be profound because of her inability to explore the world before being thrust on her journey. Her reflection in this scene resonates with a very human emotion of taking stock of one’s life during moments of relaxation. Sophie becomes more in tune with her existence and even accepting of it. Her removal from a city allows Sophie the clarity to experience and understand the beauties of nature.
Interpreting the Characters of Howl’s
When moving from novel to a screenplay, not everything will be accounted for in the final version of a script. Perhaps some details get left out; entire chapters may end up omitted from the final draft of a screenplay. In the case of Howl’s Moving Castle, the novel’s major plot points serve as merely a fantastical framework for Miyazaki. In his film, he takes the barebones of Jones’ novel and runs in an entirely different direction. In reworking the plot, the perceptions of Howl and Sophie are also turned on its head to create a world representative of Miyazakiworld aesthetics. In doing so, Miyazaki’s interpretation of Howl’s Moving Castle opens the door for a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy to coexist. The synergy of these two genres creates a unique blend of the technological and the fantastical while also focusing on the consequences that war has on the environment.
Howl vs. Howl
The protagonists of Howl’s Moving Castle have personalities unique to both Miyazaki and Jones’s version of the story. In her novel, Jones writes Howl as the narcissistic, selfish wizard that we have grown accustomed to seeing in the film version. Using beauty and charm at his disposal, Howl is described as a womanizer with a taste for young women who easily fall in love. The film’s version also leans into this trope. At the beginning of the film an employee of the hat shop remarks, “don’t worry, he only preys on pretty girls” (0:04:11). Howl’s charm is what gets him into and out of trouble in both versions, we see this during the sky walking scene where he and Sophie escape Suliman’s henchmen while on their way to the bakery. However, the most apparent contrast in Howl’s character comes from the novel. Howl is far more avoidant of his responsibilities in the novel. While having the duties of a young wizard, Jones writes Howl as one who tends to “slither out” of situations that do not serve him. The resistance in his behavior and his focus on courting women blows up in his face when he becomes rejected by a love interest. Similar to the film version, he throws a tantrum and emits green slime. However, in the novel Howl displays insecurities more openly to Michael (Markl in the film) and Sophie.
“I love her so dearly, but she scorns my deep devotion and gets sorry for another fellow. How can she have another fellow after all this attention I’ve given her? They usually get rid of the other fellows as soon as I come along.”
Miyazaki’s Howl is a lot more composed in the company of Sophie. Perhaps as a front, but it is done so in a way that adds to Howl’s overall allure throughout the film. Miyazaki’s choice in portraying a sensitive, yet vain character shows the dualities he is willing to explore in his male characters. Howl’s personality still charms viewers, but it leaves us wanting to root for someone to change instead of writing them off as unlovable. When he emits green slime in the film version, he throws a tantrum over his lack of beauty while Howl from the novel throws a tantrum over a lack of romantic attention. The two still share a sense of entitlement and vanity, but it is interesting how Miyazaki changes this idea to be more about Howl’s self-image than his desire for attention. In doing so, Miyazaki’s choice in portraying Howl as someone who seeks self-reflection creates a deeper connection to his child characters in previous Ghibli films. In most films the child protagonist does not yet need to reconcile with their behavior. It becomes meaningful when Miyazaki creates a relation to an adult acting as a child by showing a character who is coming to terms with the consequences of their behavior.
Sophie vs. Sophie
To my surprise, Sophie in both the novel and film mirror each other rather closely. Miyazaki’s Sophie is self-reliant and a go-getter. Jones’s Sophie exudes those same qualities; however, the difference from these two is that Sophie sees her confidence come to fruition through her use of magic and spells. Jones’s Sophie also has a knack for getting on Howl’s case; she does so a lot more in the novel than she does in the film. Which I found interesting because of Miyazaki’s tendency to make his older female characters with motherly personalities. A prime example being Dola from Castle in the Sky. Her personality boarders the tough exterior of an adventuring pirate out for treasure while softening to become a nurturing presence for the film’s protagonist Sheeta.
Sophie has motherly qualities in both the novel and the film, the difference we see in the film is that Sophie moves away from this role the more she finds herself falling in love with Howl. In an opposite reaction, the less she mothers Howl, the more he comes to hold himself accountable for his actions. As seen in the air raid scene, out of desperation Sophie begs Howl to give into his avoidant tendencies, “Let’s run, don’t fight them Howl” (1:35:18). Oppositely, Jones’s Sophie maintains her motherly personality throughout the novel. Even in the moments after her spell is broken, she leans away from that personality and allows a more playful side of herself to shine through with Howl.
“Sophie,” said Martha. “The spells off you! Did you hear?”
But Sophie and Howl were holding one another’s hands and smiling and smiling, quite unable to stop.
“Don’t bother me now,” said Howl. “I only did it for the money.”
“Liar!” said Sophie.
Sophie in both the film and novel versions of Howl’s Moving Castle tend to get on Howl’s case when he refuses to act his age. Sophie did not nag Howl nearly as much as she did in the novel, but she expresses the same care she holds for him through what feels like moments of tough love. Her appearance of being a crotchety old lady mirrors her personality of a nagging, mother-type. In both versions she even jokes about how her sense of style matches that of an old lady. Though Sophie was not a magic user in the film, Miyazaki’s portrayal of older women shows they are capable of exerting power through their words and actions. The qualities that Miyazaki’s Sophie portrays are similar to what Jones’s Sophie utilizes when she casts spells. Both are an intersection of agency and speaking one’s power into existence. Sophie’s self-assuredness in the film came from having to be resilient through the horrors of war. Oppositely, Sophie manifests literal magical power for herself by speaking to and enchanting objects to work in her favor. While Miyazaki uses less of a fantastical lens to portray Sophie, his choice in representing older women who choose to continuously step into their confidence is what represents the female characters of Miyazakiworld. However reluctant or uncertain of their journeys, their determination to face their metaphorical (and sometimes literal) demons head-on is what makes up the qualities of his self-righteous female protagonists.
The scope of Miyazakiworld evokes an array of emotions that resonate with the most empathetic parts of ourselves. Through Ghibli films we understand the fleeting moments of life and are reminded to have gratitude for ourselves and the world we exist in. Upon leaving the Ghibli exhibit, the gratitude I had for myself, and the environment felt restored. I left inspired and thinking how much Ghibli films have inspired countless fans to move through their world with an appreciation for the messages Miyazaki’s films convey. If there were any objections to the exhibit, it was that I was left wanting to see more of what Miyazaki’s process looked like. Perhaps notes, doodles, written ideas, scrapped or altered storyboards. My biggest curiosity was wanting to see how he interpreted Howl’s Moving Castle and how those concepts looked compared to Jones’s work. Finding those gaps that bridge between text and film would have been an interesting process to see unfold throughout the exhibit. Yet, I do feel it was justified to show only glimpses of Miyazaki’s animation process. On the surface, the items in the exhibit were displayed as finished products, looking into one’s creative process can reveal a more intimate side of a person that one may not wish to share with the public. For that, I respect the museum curators for selecting the work best representative of Miyazaki.
“Miyazakiworld contains many utopian visions”
Perhaps one of the most enduring elements of Miyazakiworld is the concept of utopia. Though constructed differently throughout these films, the idea of utopia in Howl’s Moving Castle is the home Howl and Sophie create at the end of the film. Still held together by the same members of the household, it represents freedom as it is seen flying across the sky. Miyazaki’s emphasis on a found family in Howl’s Moving Castle becomes a personal theme for his audience, perhaps conveying the message that family can be messy (much like the exterior of Howl’s castle), but it is constructed by the ideals of those that inhibit the space.
The takeaway from understanding Miyazakiworld aesthetic is that it exists between both reality and fantasy. It speaks to the very real possibilities of our world while reminding us to still make room for the fantastical to exist in our lives. Not only to uplift, but to ground us in the environment we cultivate in our present world. Just as Ghibli movies let our minds wander into an untethered, whimsical reality, it also brings us back down to see the relation it has to our own lives. Howl’s Moving Castle creates a fine balance of romanticism and quickly sobers its viewers with the escalation of war. It is in this juxtaposition that this film operates within Miyazakiworld aesthetics. However fantastical a moment may feel, reality is not too far behind to remind us of the roles we play in nature and life.
[Feel Free To Skip The Poetics Statement If You Want to Get Straight To The Poetry]
I was inspired by my trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and a love of Miyazaki’s films to try and write poetry inspired by his films, which are known both for their vivid imagery and complex themes interplaying between concepts of ecology, family, commercialism, and technology.
As an additional challenge, I attempted to write all my poetry in the form of haiku, a traditional Japanese form of poetry that I have very little experience in, in an attempt to get a more sheer and honest interpretation of Miyazaki’s work and in turn seek a better appreciation for his films.
I attempted to capture some of the themes present in Miyzaki’s films in the haikus, with each individual poem being accompanied by a background still of the specific film that inspired it and an emphasis on some of the themes of the same work. I challenge potential readers to see if they can guess the film from the poem and the corresponding frame, and undoubtedly some will be a lot easier to identify than others. I took a single still from most of Miyazaki’s directed films, all of them being: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, and Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Feel free to comment down below which poems you like, or alternatively, feel free to disagree with some of my thematic interpretations or share what your thoughts are on Miyazaki’s art.
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.