Hayao Miyazaki, The Mind of a Master: A Thoughtful Video Essay Reveals the Driving Forces Behind the Animator’s Incredible Body of Work

“If the cin­e­ma, by some twist of fate, were to be deprived overnight of the sound track and to become once again the art of silent cin­e­matog­ra­phy that it was between 1895 and 1930, I tru­ly believe most of the direc­tors in the field would be com­pelled to take up some new line of work.” So wrote François Truf­faut in the nine­teen-six­ties, argu­ing that, of film­mak­ers then liv­ing, only Howard Hawks, John Ford, and Alfred Hitch­cock could sur­vive such a return to silence. Alas, Truf­faut died in 1984, the very same year that saw the release of Nau­si­caä of the Val­ley of the Wind, the first ani­mat­ed fea­ture by what would become Stu­dio Ghi­b­li. Had he lived longer, he would cer­tain­ly have had to grant its mas­ter­mind Hayao Miyaza­ki pride of place in his small cat­a­log of mas­ter visu­al sto­ry­tellers.

“He does­n’t actu­al­ly write a script,” says Any-Mation Youtu­ber Cole Delaney in “Hayao Miyaza­ki: The Mind of a Mas­ter,” the video essay above. “He might write an out­line with his plan for a fea­ture, but gen­er­al­ly he draws an image and works from there.”

My Neigh­bor Totoro, for instance, began with only the image of a young girl and the tit­u­lar for­est crea­ture stand­ing at a bus stop; from that artis­tic seed every­thing else grew, like the enor­mous tree that Totoro and the chil­dren make grow in the film itself. Delaney also explores oth­er essen­tial aspects of Miyaza­k­i’s process, includ­ing the cre­ation of full worlds with dis­tinc­tive funi­ki, or ambi­ence; the incor­po­ra­tion of Ozu-style “pil­low shots” to shape a film’s space and rhythm; and the cre­ation of pro­tag­o­nists whose strong will trans­lates direct­ly into phys­i­cal motion.

“What dri­ves the ani­ma­tion is the will of the char­ac­ters,” says Miyaza­ki him­self, in a clip Delaney bor­rows from the NHK doc­u­men­tary 10 Years with Hayao Miyaza­ki. “You don’t depict fate, you depict will.” The mas­ter makes oth­er obser­va­tions on his work and life itself, which one sens­es he regards as one and the same. “I want to make a film that won’t shame me,” he says by way of explain­ing his noto­ri­ous per­fec­tion­ism. “I want to stay grumpy,” he says by way of explain­ing his equal­ly noto­ri­ous demeanor in the Ghi­b­li office. As for “the notion that one’s goal in life is to be hap­py, that your own hap­pi­ness is the goal… I just don’t buy it.” Rather, peo­ple must  “live their lives ful­ly, with all their might, with­in their giv­en bound­aries, in their own era.” The sur­pass­ing vital­i­ty of his films reflects his own: “Like it or not,” he says, “a film is a reflec­tion of its direc­tor,” and in these words Truf­faut would sure­ly rec­og­nize a fel­low auteurist-auteur.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Phi­los­o­phy of Hayao Miyaza­ki: A Video Essay on How the Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Reli­gion Shin­to Suf­fus­es Miyazaki’s Films

Watch Hayao Miyaza­ki Ani­mate the Final Shot of His Final Fea­ture Film, The Wind Ris­es

What Made Stu­dio Ghi­b­li Ani­ma­tor Isao Taka­ha­ta (RIP) a Mas­ter: Two Video Essays

How Mas­ter Japan­ese Ani­ma­tor Satoshi Kon Pushed the Bound­aries of Mak­ing Ani­me: A Video Essay

The Aes­thet­ic of Ani­me: A New Video Essay Explores a Rich Tra­di­tion of Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion

Japan­ese Ani­ma­tion Direc­tor Hayao Miyaza­ki Shows Us How to Make Instant Ramen

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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