A few weeks back I watched The wind rises, a beautiful animated story set in war time Japan, telling the tale of a young Japanese engineer whose dream was to create the perfect war time plane. The movie was made by Japan’s top animation studio, ‘Studio Ghibli’ and was directed by animation legend Hayao Miyazaki.
The movie although commercially successful as gotten some very tough criticism from inside Japan. The reason being, some feel that Miyazaki and his studio have white washed war and painted Japan in a less positive way. Historians and pundits will mostly agree that Japan was on the wrong side of World War II, the era in which the film was set. But watching this particular movie, one could easily get carried away by other themes that bubble to the surface, cleverly keeping the war at bay. In fact war is used as a clever back drop, playing up the young engineers’ dreams and the woman he falls in love with and eventually loses to illness. Yet as with many movies of theirs, studio Ghibli shows the heart break and devastation war brings, the lives lost, the savaged environment and the people that have to put back the jagged pieces of their lives.
Hayao Miyazaki has said many times that he considers himself a pacifist and an environmentalist. Just like their founder, his studio mostly makes movies that addresses one social issue or the other. Whilst a lot of their movies cater to kids and young adults, there’s a usually a very strong social message that goes along with it.
Some readers may or may not have watched some of the studios famous movies, but this link has the list of all the movies Studio Ghibli has made.
Films like Castle in the Sky, Grave of the fireflies, Porco Rosso and The wind rises all deal with themes of war. Interestingly enough, in both Porco Rosso and the wind rises, fighter planes and their pilots have a strong role in the telling of the stories. This perhaps has to do with the fact that Hayao himself is a son of an aeronautical engineer. His father was responsible for creating airplanes that were used in fighting the war. Whilst these machines are beautified in his movies, they are not exempt from being portrayed as weapons of devastation, destroying lives and properties with the ease that some of us would apply to devouring our favorite dessert.
Another big theme with Studio Ghibli and their movies, is the topic of environmentalism. Take for instance Nausicaa of the Valley of the wind. A movie whose main protagonist lives in perhaps the world’s only utopia, until that place must come to terms with the scarred outside world, and everyone has to figure out how to coexist. You might perhaps wonder how can a movie aimed for kids pack such a strong message, but one only has to watch a Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki movie to realize just how much of a genius he is at telling stories and conveying his message in a beautiful and enthralling method.
Its little wonder that TIME magazine has named Hayao Miyazaki one of the most influential people in the world, twice running. Till date no other foreign animated movie has won an Oscar, which Spirited Away did in 2001.
Its not that Studio Ghibli is the only Japanese animation studio making socially conscious movies. Heck, one can see strong anti-war themes in classics such as Akira, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mobile Suit Gundam. But whereas those shows and movies were geared towards a more mature audience, Miyazaki and his company take simple themes and give them a global appeal.
Its little wonder why its one of the most successful movie studios not just in Asia, but in the world. Pretty much every release of theirs is a gold mine, which is quite a feat in itself. It is a testament to the remarkable Hayao, who up until his recent retirement, adhered to a stringent moral code, that he would not only make beautiful movies, but also ones with a conscience. With how widely accepted his movies are, generations of Japanese youth have been inculcated into the Miyazaki way. Learning about the perils of destroying our environment, the savageness and brutality that comes with war, and the jeopardy of abandoning our dreams.
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Deep Focus Review – Movie Reviews – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). (n.d.). Deep Focus Review – Movie Reviews – Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Retrieved July 20, 2014, from http://www.deepfocusreview.com/reviews/nausicaaofthevalleyofthewind.asp
Hayao Miyazaki Contemplates Dreams, the Environment and the Elegant Simplicity of ‘Ponyo’ | 7×7. (n.d.). Hayao Miyazaki Contemplates Dreams, the Environment and the Elegant Simplicity of ‘Ponyo’ | 7×7. Retrieved July 20, 2014, from http://www.7×7.com/arts/hayao-miyazaki-contemplates-dreams-environment-and-elegant-simplicity-ponyo
Spirited Away. (n.d.). IMDb. Retrieved July 20, 2014, from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0245429/
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The Greatest Living Animation Director Explains Why He’s Retiring. (n.d.). BuzzFeed. Retrieved July 20, 2014, from http://www.buzzfeed.com/adambvary/hayao-miyazaki-retirement-the-wind-rises