“Creating animation means creating a fictional world. That world soothes the spirit of those who are disheartened and exhausted from dealing with the sharp edges of reality” – Miyazaki
We’re going to build a three story studio. It’s success is not our priority. Whats important is that youre doing what you want. Our foremost objective here is making good films.
One consistent theme in my work is to watch good animation and surpass it – Miyazaki
His work consists of some of the greatest animated masterpieces in cinematic history. For 40 years his dexterity and creative has dazzle audiences through his feature length animations, to become the undisputed master of his craft.
In the west there still remains a stigma that animation is meant for children, unlike in his home country. Western animations therefore avoid heavy themes we are more accustomed to seeing in live action films.
Miyazaki however takes an approach to animated film-making that is constantly in touch with the emotional intricacy of his subjects as opposed to flat characters. “His aim wasn’t to make films that spoke down to children. His aim was to make films that would help us all understand the human condition.” – Lewis Bond
Miyazaki was inspired by cartoons such as “The Curious Adventures of Mr Wonderbird” and early Disney films for their technical abilities however did believe that the emotional depictions were too simplistic.
Miyazaki hence sought to change the shallow nature of animation. His animations are not about the external flare but rather the internal subtleties.
Skill and proficiency of western animators mixed with an approach of eastern sensibility
The foundations for his films are found through empathy and reality. Empathy captured by the audience’s self-projection onto the characters and reality through the honest depiction of the unpredictability of people’s lives.
Focus on the emotional element which is what causes such attachment to his films
“A lady working in the producer’s office told me, that children need to see something incomprehensible and they’ll understand it later”. – Miyazaki
He says that at the core of all his stories there must be a sense of realism. His focus often lies on human nature and what can be understood irrespective of culture (characters that are fully fleshed out with clear goals), amidst the incorporated elements of fantasy. The starting point of any character is to understand what it is they want. Make it clear what your character wants to achieve, otherwise they’ll have no obstacles to overcome.
Miyazaki begins the humanisation of his characters through the purely visual means of character movement. He began his career as a manga artist, influenced by a style known as Gekiga: Japanese for “dramatic pictures”. Coined by more serious Japanese cartoonists who did not want their trade to be known as manga. It is in essence a form of manga with more serious stories and thus more realistic drawings.
Miyazaki has expressed distaste towards the anime industry for its overexpression used to achieve audience reactions (cheap tactics of achieving audience reaction through the overexpressionism of its characters). He thus tends not to focus on the large flashy movements of his own animations and more onto the subdued subtle ones. The characters he presents come with familiar idiosyncrasies; for example Chihiro tapping down the toes of her shoe to ensure that they are on correctly. It is actions like these that enrich the characters of Miyazaki, as it often can be something as simple as the minutia of an action that may emphasize who that character is. Spending time on arbitrary actions shows us how that character thinks through how they approach things, whether they may be careful or precise, or clumsy and stubborn. Small details at such a precise degree is what makes miyazaki characters feel human. We as an audience are able to recognise the basic tasks they perform that other film makers wouldn’t include, allowing us emotional insight into a character when they are at their most primal, and most recognisable.
The reason Miyazaki is able to so well portray realistic depictions of his characters is because he studies people so well. His comprehension of human behaviour is displayed through the plethora of actions within his characters. He never reuses the same expressions even with actions as simple as running. His character actions have innumerable variations as their behaviours are drawn to cater what the character is feeling in that precise moment. He includes character imperfections necessary for realism, such as Mei’s simple mindedness or Kiki’s rudeness. Audiences simply cannot empathise with characters written to be perfect. – Character shortcomings are a requisite for commonalities.
“Just because they are the protagonist, it does not make them infallible”.
Unlike traditional fantasy, Miyazaki doesn’t portray morality as a simple binary. The dichotomy of good versus evil is not present in his films. Everything and everyone displays elements of tenderness and elements of savagery. Nothing in the world is simply one or the other, it is an amalgamation of all emotions within a spectrum. Miyazaki proposes a theme of morality which is complex. For example Lady Eboshi who wants to destroy the forest yet houses the sick and gives the inhabitants of Iron Town a good lifestyle. It is not shown to repress the negative aspects of humanity because they exist all around us, it is part of nature. His stories are never about the protagonist winning, but rather adapting and growing to a world that isn’t built around their needs.
We are confronted to harsh realities, however they are addressed so that something positive may arise out of it. Many animations end with everything tied in a neat bow, but there hasn’t really been any development of the character. They achieve their goal without overcoming any long lasting personal obstacles. On the other hand, Miyazaki characters never end as the audience expected. They begin flawed and remain flawed, but their experiences have helped blossom their outlook. The solidarity and connection they’ve made with their world is an example of a spiritual liberation that the character has gone through instead of a material one. By the end of a miyazaki film, a distinction is made between what the character wants and what they really need. Sometimes the goal of your film should be where you want the character to end on an emotional level because even though our characters have clear goals those goals are never as important as the character themselves.
“You see, what drives animation is the will of the characters. You don’t depict fate, you depict will.” – Miyazak
Prioritisation of the human elements over the fantasy. His attitude of filmmaking: Miyazaki leaves a lot up to feelings and intuition. While the film is being made, the script and storyboards are simultaneously worked on. Because no one knows how the story will end, it is never made the primary focus. Instead, many scenes are planned out individually, not as story threads but as
methods of conveying emotion. It is a technique wherein if all we saw was the one scene, we would understand all of the emotional information that was there. To achieve this, Miyazaki simply continues to draw settings that evoke feelings. He is never concerned about plot in the early stages. Emotion is the key. It is important to instill this in the audience before anything else. The reason as to why his films portray atmosphere so well is because the imagery takes precedence, continually altering them during preproduction with no other objective than to have them make us feel something. The impression of a landscape is depended on the emotions of the person viewing the landscape. By displaying the world through the emotional perspective of the character, the world can reflect this emotion back. Human sensibilities are often connected to the weather, all of these meticulous details are what allow us to feel stronger emotion as viewers. Miyazaki takes the time to find the best way to replicated whatever mood the character emits through his worlds. Sentiment is what seeps from the pores of a miyazaki film.
Even the pacing is used in such a way as to higthen the response of the audience. The fact that Miyazaki uses many action-filled moments requires the use of slower, tranquil moments to allow the emotion have time to sink in. Western animation on the contrary seems to be the antithesis of this, very rarely slowing down the action. Miyazaki often utilises quiet, still moments to offer the characters and audience moments of reflection. They are periods in which the audience shares a moment with the character to figure out their situation or project their own feelings onto the character. He often lets time slowly pass by for our characters in the hope that the connection we have made with them is what speaks at that moment. Through the minds of our characters we have related; we know what they are thinking without explanation.
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