In the Shintoism from which Hayao Miyazaki’s films liberally draw, the worlds of nature and spirit are not mutually exclusive. “Shrine Shinto,” write James Boyd and Tetsuya Nishimura at The Journal of Religion and Film, “understands the whole of life, including both humans and nature, as creative and life giving. A generative, immanent force harmoniously pervades the whole phenomenal world.” But to experience this power “requires an aesthetically pure and cheerful heart/mind, an emotional, mental and volitional condition that is not easily attained.” In My Neighbor Totoro, for example, Miyazaki helps to induce this state in us with long slice-of-life passages that move like gentle breezes through tall grasses and trees. In the apocalyptic sci-fi Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the title character herself takes on the task of harmoniously reconciling man, nature, and mutant insect.
I would argue that Miyazaki’s films are not solely entertainments, but means by which we can experience “an aesthetically pure and cheerful” heart and mind. And although he has retired, we can relive those films “over and over again,” as The Creator’s Project writes, not only by watching them, but by building miniature sets from them, as you see represented here. See My Neighbor Totoro’s old, rustic house in the forest—where Satsuki and Mei come to terms with their mother’s illness while befriending the local nature spirits—get assembled at the top of the post. And just above, see the town of Koriko from Kiki’s Delivery Service take shape, a place that becomes transformed by magic, just as Kiki does by her sorties into the forest.
These kits, made by the Japanese paper craft company Sankei, are “ready to be assembled and glued together, creating your own mini movie set,” The Creator’s Project notes. Previous models include Totoro and his two small companions, above, and the bakery from Kiki; another kit recreates the deserted magical town Chihiro and her parents stumble upon in Spirited Away. The kits don’t come cheap—each one costs around $100—and they take time and skill to assemble, as you see in these videos. But like so many of the important acts in Miyazaki’s films—and like the act of watching those films themselves—we might think of assembling these models as rituals of patience and devotion to aesthetic habits of mind that slow us down and gently nudge us to seek harmony and connection.