A Moving Castle Part 4

There are a few more things to put into consideration before I can start my analysis. I know what you must be thinking: there are a lot of things to consider before we can look at the two films in question. Isn’t there always a lot of work that needs to go before looking at any subject though? With this blog in particular that is the case and I felt the need to split these considerations into (hopefully) easily digestible pieces.

Miyazaki’s Following and the West

Miyazaki Hayao

The name Miyazaki is a household name in Japan and is slowly becoming more well-known in the western world. Those who know his name often equate him with Disney in the West but Miyazaki has little love for Disney’s work. Many otaku follow Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s work. To understand the love of Miyazaki and why his style is often viewed as great and inspirational, you have to know about otaku culture.

Otaku is not easily defined. It emerged in Japan in the 1980s as a “marginalized and stigmatized geek subculture”[i]. The term otaku has been debated inside and outside of the culture due to the two competing predominant images: of the out of touch with reality shut-ins and the geek chic of “arcane knowledge of pop and cyber culture and striking technological fluency”[ii]. Overall, otaku culture “references a constellation of ‘fannish’ cultural logics, platforms, and practices that cluster around anime, manga, and Japanese games and are in turn associated with a more generalized set of dispositions toward passionate and participatory engagement with popular culture and technology in a networked world”[iii].

The otaku culture has latched onto Miyazaki’s art form as inspirational, revolutionary, and masterful. Many who are not part of the otaku culture also see this but within the otaku culture within North America, it is almost rare that the name Miyazaki isn’t known.
What often puzzles western audiences is that Miyazaki’s work is often more for adults than for children with “both enchanting fantasies and thought-provoking scenarios”[iv]. This is due to the fact that animation in Japan is viewed differently than in western culture. Animation in western culture is “meant” for children (although this is changing) for the most part whereas in Japan, animation has targeted audiences for various age groups from young to old and is meant to appeal to a wide variety of ages. As Cavallaro states,

“Western audiences tend to regard animation as a second-rate art form and – when judging specifically Japanese animation – to dismiss it as violent, superficial, clichéd, and technically ‘cold’. Such judgements are stereotypical, however, since they are based on moderate familiarly with only a small proportion of the Japanese animation industry’s overall output. Furthermore, they do not take into consideration the distinctive importance of cartoons and animated films in the context of Japan, failing to acknowledge that in that culture, manga (and their cinematic correlatives) are an integral component of literature and popular culture”[v].

Miyazaki’s Art Form

Studio GhibliMiyazaki’s art form appeals to anime experts and otaku alike but has also reached a global audience which allows for analysis to take place[vi]. Miyazaki’s films appeal to audiences young and old that reaches “beyond the cultural and geographical bounds of his native Japan”[vii]. Miyazaki has been bringing to life for decades “intricate fantasy realms, building each from scratch and drawing their most minute items with total devotion”[viii]. It could take me a lifetime of analysis to just look at the background of a single film by Miyazaki. In his fantasy realms, he mixes “Eastern and Western traditions, ancient mythologies and contemporary cultures, the magical visions of children and the pragmatic outlooks of adults intriguingly coalesce”[ix]. These magical worlds, he pulls his audience into are challenging with their messages, spellbinding in their animation, but also force the audience to feel exhilaration while dealing with the darker undertones of human nature[x]. This often surprises Western audiences who do not expect Miyazaki’s use of animation to “address issues deeply ingrained in the social fabric of contemporary Japan”[xi] and often worldwide.

Yet his art form remains a subject of discussion, appreciation and respect. Cavallaro states, “in using traditional cel animation and cutting-edge digital techniques – employing computers to manipulate images and to accomplish visual and special effects unattainable by traditional means, yet remaining faithful to the two-dimensionality of the art of drawing – the director and his studio have crucially redefined the standards of contemporary animation”[xii]. Miyazaki and his team at Studio Ghibli spend years creating a single film due to their dedication to the art of drawing. This may seem strange for a modern western audience where more and more animation is becoming computer generated but due to the history of Japanese comics (manga) and its animation (anime), things are done a lot differently. For instance, Japanese manga and anime do not “follow Western narrative structure, this is due to the fact manga is told over several years and ‘therefore experience often substantial reorientations’. Animation based on the manga are targeted audiences who already know the narrative content and thus do not require the same intensive narrative

From left to right: Naruto from Naruto, Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach, Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece, Natsu Dragneel from Fairy Tail and Son Goku from Dragon Ball Z.

often given to animation and movies in the West”[xiii]. If you are familiar with manga and anime, a single artist may spend ten years on a story and thus may end up creating 500 episodes of animation based on that story (such as One Piece by Eiichiro Oda, Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto, Dragon Ball by Akira Toriyama, and Bleach by Tite Kubo to name a few).

Despite this, Miyazaki does not utilize manga as his sole inspiration and does not adhere to traditional Japanese narrative conventions either. Miyazaki pulls on cross-cultural elements as well as Japanese culture thus creating “globally relevant [films] by virtue of the central themes they handle; closely bound with Western culture due to the literary and cinematographical sources they draw upon, and to the setting which several of them employ; and distinctively Japanese in their use of tradition and lore, their display of an eminently pictographic sensibility, and their original adaption of manga and anime aesthetics”[xiv]. These aesthetics are seen in his cinematography’s style where the camera angles utilize are reminiscent of manga “where the method of storytelling through still images enables artists to use each frame as a means of showing details incrementally, of slowing the action down or speeding it up. Anime adopts an analogous approach, often taking a still image and moving the camera left to right to convey the impression of movement though what is being presents as just a single static image”[xv]. Miyzaki uses the technique from manga to ensure there is something always happening or moving on every page which he passes onto the screen[xvi].

Miyazaki also does not employ the often thought of manga-style of characters with large eyes in unnatural colours with limited facial expressions[xvii]. This style was predominantly used in the 90s and early 2000s which dominated anime’s exposure in the Western world and is no often portrayed in shoujo anime. Shoujo is a sub-genre of anime that means “little female” is targeted to about 12 year old girls (think Sailor Moon of the 90s). Miyazaki’s heroines have little in common with the style of shoujo with pretty magical transformation scenes and cutesy storylines. Of course this is only one subgenre to anime and Miyazaki tends towards the darker side of animation due to his narrative techniques.

Miyazaki is well-known for leaving his ending without a clear message and allowing the “plots themselves…to follow life’s own unpredictable flux more than the narrative and dramatic criteria codified by mainstream spectacle”[xviii]. Within these plots are issues that are felt around the globe: “the fate of the ecosystem, the ever-present phantom of war, the evils of totalitarianism and the vicissitudes of self-development”[xix].

Miyazaki’s world view in his films shows that things are always changing and most of the time, the people involved “having nothing to go by except ephemeral patterns spun from the contingent moment’s of vaporous scenarios”[xx]. Cavallaro reminds us that the circumstances of the world and the West’s colonization has had an impact on Miyazaki’s films; he states,

“Miyazaki’s films and personal circumstances remind us that since the Second World War, Japanese culture has had to negotiate, often painfully, its damning association with an aggressive, expansionist and belligerent mentality. At the same time, it has had to grapple with the impact on its traditions and customs of West-dominated globalization. Miyazaki’s tales – although they never explicitly represent modern conflicts – bear witness to these issues by dramatizing the numerous difficulties involved in the acquisition and development of a cultural identity at the individual and the collective levels”[xxi].

What Cavallaro is referring to with Miyazaki’s personal circumstances is his family’s help in building parts for kamikaze airplanes in the Second World War. This has allowed Miyazaki to take on a view of circumstances and roles that is conscious of global issues. Miyazaki often has an environmental message somewhere in his films which can be seen as a “distinctively Japanese sensitivity to things, their beauty and the sadness of their passing, encapsulated by the principle of mono no aware [the pathos of things/an empathy towards things]”[xxii]. This plays into identity in Japan as “oneness with nature…has long been considered part of the Japanese national character”[xxiii].

The last thing I wish to discuss within Miyazaki’s art form is the settings. Miyazaki often has beautiful country landscapes as well as cityscapes but only three of Miyazaki’s nine films are set in a Japanese setting (Studio Ghibli only creates full length feature films). The six in non-Japanese locations are: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Porco Rosso (1992), and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). Howl’s Moving Castle has an European town and city feel for many settings in an industrial age while a war is being waged. The three films set in locations of distinctively Japanese orgins: My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001). Cavallaro states,

“As for Spirited Away, the economic/commercial setup which the film highlights is no more Oriental – despite the bath house’s emphatically Chino-Nipponic structure and decor – than it is Western, due to its unsentimental representation of greed, acquisitiveness, and self-indulgence…The productions that feature landscapes and cityscapes of Western derivation cannot be regarded as more Western ‘than the ones placed within Japanese settings, but instead show the viewer; Japanese perceptions of the West and especially of Europe. The collusion of East and West is paralleled by two further forms of thematic and structural interplay. Miyazaki’s films symbolically bring together diverse time scales by tackling certain recurring issues in historically disparate contexts. Their recurring concern with the ecosystem, for example, manifests itself with equal poignance when set in the ancient past (Princess Mononoke), in the present (Spirited Away), or in the post-apocalyptic future (Naussicaa). As East and West, on the one hand, and various temporalities, on the other, subtly coalesce, so do multiple strands of reality and fantasy, enabling the grave matters treated in virtually all of Miyazaki’s productions to be both enhanced and problematized by the interventions of preternatural beings and by the incidence of wizardly feats, dazzling spells and concurrently physical and mental metaphorphoses”[xxiv].

What Cavallaro is suggesting is that Miyazaki’s intersection of East and West dominate his films in sometimes big ways and sometimes little ways. This is one of the reasons he has been able to have such great success on a global scale as he is able to appeal to both Western and Eastern audiences. Miyazaki is able to show also how the East views the West rather than how many western audiences receive the West view of the East. With my analysis of two different films in opposite settings, I must consider Miyazaki’s camera view of the East’s view of the West as well as his aesthetics for animation. Therefore, without further ado, let’s move onto the analysis at last.

End Notes

[i] Mizuko Ito, introduction to Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe and Izumi Tsuji (London: Yale University Press, 2012), xi.

[ii] Ito, introduction to Fandom Unbound, xi.

[iii] Ito, introduction to Fandom Unbound, xi.

[iv] Cavallaro, Dani. The Anime Art of Hayao Miyazaki (London: McFarland & Company, 2006), 5.

[v] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 12 – 13.

[vi] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 5.

[vii] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 5.

[viii] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 5.

[ix] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 5.

[x] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 5.

[xi] McDonald, Keiko I. Reading a Japanese Film: Cinema in Context (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), 177.

[xii] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 5.

[xiii] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 6.

[xiv] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 7.

[xv] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 10.

[xvi] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 10.

[xvii] Cavllario, Anime Art,10.

[xviii] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 6.

[xix] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 7.

[xx] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 7.

[xxi] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 7.

[xxii] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 8.

[xxiii] McDonald, Reading a Japanese Film, 178.

[xxiv] Cavallaro, Anime Art, 9.


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