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.

Watch a New Animation of Richard Feynman’s Ode to the Wonder of Life, with Music by Yo-Yo Ma

…I would like not to underestimate the value of the world view which is the result of scientific effort. We have been led to imagine all sorts of things infinitely more marvelous than the imaginings of poets and dreamers of the past.

– Richard Feynman

In 1955, theoretical physicist Richard Feynman gave a talk on the value of science to members of the National Academy of Sciences at at Caltech University.

In the wake of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his involvement with the Manhattan Project had been cause for serious depression and soul searching.

He concluded that the pursuit of scientific knowledge remained valuable to society, even though such knowledge comes without operating instructions, and thus can be put to evil purposes.

In the Caltech speech, he cited the life improving technological and medical breakthroughs that are the result of scientific explorations, as well as the scientific field’s allegiance to the concept that we must be free to dissent, question, and discuss:

If we suppress all discussion, all criticism, proclaiming “This is the answer, my friends; man is saved!” we will doom humanity for a long time to the chains of authority, confined to the limits of our present imagination.

(This strikes a profound chord in 2022, remembering how some extremely vocal politicians and citizens took changing public health mandates as evidence of conspiracy, rather than an ever-deepening scientific understanding of how an unfamiliar virus was operating.)

Any child with an interest in STEM will be gratified to learn that Feynman also found much to admire in “the fun …which some people get from reading and learning and thinking about (science), and which others get from working in it.

Throughout his speech, he refrained from technical jargon, using language that those whose passions skew more toward the arts can understand to invoke the experience of scientific discovery.

His meditations concerning the interconnectedness between every molecule “stupidly minding its own business” and everything else in the known universe, including himself, a human standing beside the sea, trying to make sense of it all, is of a piece with Shakespeare and Walt Whitman.

Untitled Ode to the Wonder of Life

by Richard Feynman

I stand at the seashore, alone, and start to think.

There are the rushing waves

mountains of molecules

each stupidly minding its own business

trillions apart

yet forming white surf in unison.

Ages on ages before any eyes could see

year after year

thunderously pounding the shore as now.

For whom, for what?

On a dead planet

with no life to entertain.

Never at rest

tortured by energy

wasted prodigiously by the sun

poured into space.

A mite makes the sea roar.

Deep in the sea

all molecules repeat

the patterns of one another

till complex new ones are formed.

They make others like themselves

and a new dance starts.

Growing in size and complexity

living things

masses of atoms

DNA, protein

dancing a pattern ever more intricate.

Out of the cradle

onto dry land

here it is

standing: atoms with consciousness;

matter with curiosity.

Stands at the sea,

wonders at wondering: I

a universe of atoms

an atom in the universe

The Marginalian’s (formerly Brain Pickings) Maria Popova seizes on this interlude for the final installment of her video series, The Universe in Verse, above, collaborating with animator Kelli Anderson on a “perspective-broadening, mind-deepening” visual interpretation of Feynman’s excerpted remarks.

Flowing under and around Feynman’s narration is an original composition by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, whose renown in the field of music is on par with Feynman’s in physics, and who notes in the introduction to The Quotable Feynman:

While he paid close attention to problems we face and generate, he also knew that humans are a subset of nature, and nature held for him the greatest fascination – for the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man, and nature guards her secrets jealously.

Read Feynman’s complete speech to the National Academy of Sciences at at Caltech University here.

Watch all nine chapters of The Universe in Verse here.

via The Marginalian

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold 3D Recreations of Pompeii’s Lavish Homes–As They Existed Before the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius

“I pray that to their share of noble fortunes [Zeus] send no Nemesis of jealous will, but in prosperity and free from ills, exalt them and their city.” Pindar, Olympian Ode 8

Why are humans awestruck by natural disaster? Or — more to the point — why are we dumbfounded when disasters destroy cities? We should hardly be surprised at this point when nature does what it invariably does: tectonic plates shift, volcanoes erupt, hurricanes and typhoons sweep the coasts…. These things have always happened on Earth, with or without our help, and for many millions of years before anything like us showed up.

Like the mythical Narcissus, we can only see ourselves and assume everything that happens must be for us. After the Great Lisbon Earthquake in Portugal in 1755, “Lisbon’s devout Catholic population saw the ruined city as divine punishment,” writes Laura Trethewey.

“The Protestant countries of Europe also saw the destruction as punishment, but for backward Catholic behavior.” Meanwhile, philosophers like Voltaire, who wrote Candide to satirize responses to the quake, saw the catastrophe as more evidence that a creator, if such a being had ever cared, cared no more.

In Greek and Roman mythology, the gods never stop meddling, punishing, rewarding, etc. Narcissus is tempted to gaze at himself by Nemesis, the goddess who meets hubris with swift retribution. While generally invoked as a leveler of individuals who overstep, she also levels cities, as fifth century BC Greek poet Pindar suggests when he begs Zeus to spare the island city of Aegina from her wrath. Perhaps, then, it was Nemesis, winged vengeance herself, that the citizens of Pompeii believed bore down upon them, as molten lava, smoke, and ash.

From its earliest status as a Roman-allied city (then Roman colony), Pompeii grew into a very wealthy area, its surrounding lands rich with villas and farms, its city center anchored by its Amphitheater, Odeon, Forum Baths and temples, its running water arriving from the Serino Aqueduct. Maybe they had it too good? Maybe their extravagant good fortune caused too much jealously in the neighbors? Maybe the gods demanded balance. It’s very human to think so — to ascribe divine will, in the lack of explanation, for why something so filled with teeming life should be destroyed for no reason at all.

It must have been the gods, who looked down on Pompeii’s wealth and grew jealous themselves. In these 3D animated videos, see why ancient Pompeiians would have been proud of their city, recreated here in part by Sweden’s Lund University and Storied Past Productions. “While in Pompeii few could reach the elite,” notes the latter in their description of the video above, “many tried to recreate ‘the good life’ in their own ways…. From grand urban villas, to small private homes, to smaller apartments.” In these walkthroughs, you can “see all the different things ‘home’ could mean in ancient Pompeii.” You might also, if you aren’t careful, find yourself getting a little envious of these doomed ancient urbanites.

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A Drone’s Eye View of the Ruins of Pompeii

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch “Pass the Ball,” a Collaborative Animation Made by 40 Animators Across the Globe

Over 40 months, 40 animators contributed to making a short animation. The process went something like this: An animator created a three second segment, then passed it to another animator in a different country. Then, that next animator made a new contribution, inching things forward.

Above you can watch the final product. It’s the brainchild of Nathan Boey. Enjoy.

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And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

via The Kids Should See This

Tate Kids Presents Introductions to Art Movements: Cubism, Impressionism, Surrealism & More

Tate Kids has a solid grasp on the sort of hands on art-related content that appeals to children – Make a mud painting! Make a spaghetti sculpture! Photo filter challenge!

Children of all ages, grown ups who skipped out on art history included, will benefit from their breakneck overviews of entire art movements.

Take cubism.

The Tate Kids’ animation, above, provides a solid if speedy overview, zipping through eight canvases, six artists, and explanations of the movement’s two phases – analytical and synthetic. (Three phases if you count Orphism, the abstract, cubist influenced painting style married artists Robert and Sonia Delaunay hatched around 1912.)

Given the intended audience, the fond friendship between the fathers of cubism, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso looms large, with nary a peep about Picasso’s narcissism and misogyny. And it must be said that the narrator’s tone grates a bit – a bit too loud, a bit too wowed.

The Impressionists come off as the real cool kids, with a different narrator, and nifty collage animations that find Camille Pissarro throwing horns and a Mohawked Alfred Sisley as they reject the Salon‘s insistence on “myths, battles and paintings of important people.”

Their defiant spirit is supported by criticism that most definitely has not stood the test of time:

Pure evil! 


Like a monkey has got hold of a box of paints!

Kid presenters seize the controls for an introduction to the mid-century Japanese avant-garde movement, Gutai.

Their conclusion?

Smashing things up is fun!

As are manifestos:

Let’s bid farewell to the hoaxes piled up on the altars and in the palaces, the drawing rooms and the antique shops…Lock up these corpses in the graveyard!


Those who are poorly equipped to stomach the narrators’ whizbang enthusiasm should take a restorative minutes to visit the museum oranges in hand, with 12-year-old Jaeda and 9-year-old Fatimatu. Their calm willingness to engage with conceptual art is a tonic:

When I started art, I though art was just about making it perfect, but you don’t have to care what other people say. That could still mean an art to you.

Watch a Tate Kids Art Movements playlist on YouTube. Supplement what you’ve learned with a host of Tate Kids activities, coloring pages, games, quizzes, artist bios and a gallery of crowdsourced kid art.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bambi Meets Godzilla: #38 on the List of The 50 Greatest Cartoons of All Time

In 1994, Jerry Beck edited the book, The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals, which challenged experts to create a ranking of the best short, cel animated cartoons ever made. To no one’s surprise, the experts chose 10 Warner Bros. animations crafted by Chuck Jones. They also gave a nod to Fleischer Studios’ original Superman cartoonDisney’s first animation with Mickey Mouse (1928’s “Steamboat Willie”), and the Donald Duck-starring WWII propaganda film,“Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

Yes, the big animation studios (Warner Bros., Disney, etc.) dominate the list. But a few “indies” manage to squeak in there. Take for example Winsor Mccay’s seminal 1914 creation “Gertie the Dinosaur.” Or Bambi Meets Godzilla. A student film created by Marv Newland in 1969, Bambi Meets Godzilla (above) runs only 90 seconds. Of which, 48 seconds are devoted to the opening credits, and 27 seconds to the closing credits, leaving only 12 seconds of “action,” which is mostly stillness. The timing is the funny.

The short film circulated in theaters across the U.S., shown before screenings of Philippe de Broca’s feature film King of Hearts. Over the years the publicly-available versions of Bambi Meets Godzilla became worn and faded. So, in 2013, Coda Gardner produced a frame-for-frame HD re-creation. You can watch it below.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

The National Film Board of Canada hosts more recent films by Newland, including 2005’s “Tête à Tête à Tête” and 2011’s “CMYK.”

via @joycecaroloates

If you would like to get Open Culture post’s via email, please sign up for our free email newsletter here.

And if you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks for your support!

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A Brief Animated History of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses & the Reformation–Which Changed Europe and Later the World

Whatever our religious background, we all sooner or later have occasion to speak of nailing theses to a door. Most of us use the phrase as a metaphor, but seldom entirely without awareness of the historical events that inspired it. On October 31, 1517, a German priest and theologian named Martin Luther nailed to the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church his own theses, 95 of them, which collectively made an argument against the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, or pardons for sins. Luther could not accept that the poor should “spend all their money buying their way out of punishment so they can go to heaven,” nor that it should be “easier for the rich to avoid a long time in purgatory.”

In other words, Luther believed that the Church in his time had become “way too much about money and too little about God,” according to the narration of the short film above. Created by Tumblehead Studios and showcased by National Geographic for the 500th anniversary of the original thesis-nailing, its five playfully animated minutes tell the story of the Reformation, which saw Protestantism split off from Catholicism as a result of Luther’s agitation. It also manages to include such events as Luther’s own translation of the New Testament, previously available only in Greek and Latin, into his native German, the publication of which created the basis of the modern German language as spoken and written today.

Luther’s translation gave ordinary people “the opportunity to read the Bible in their own language,” free from the interpretations of the priests and the Church. It also gave them, perhaps less intentionally, the ability to “use the words of the Bible as an argument for all sorts of things.” Luther’s thoughts were soon marshaled “in the power struggles of princes, in revolts, and in the struggle between kings, princes, and the Pope about who actually decides what.” Squabbles, battles, and full-scale wars ensued. The consequent institutional schisms changed the world in ways visible half a millennium later — but they first changed Europe, where traces of that transformation still reveal themselves most strikingly. Few travelers can be trusted to find and explain those traces more ably than public-television host Rick Steves.

In Luther and the Reformation, his 2017 special above, Steves visits all the important sites involved in the central figure’s life journey, a representation in microcosm of Europe’s grand shift from medievalism into modernity.  In more than 40 years of professional travel, Steves has paid countless visits to the monuments of Catholic Europe. Appreciating them, he admitted in a recent New York Times Magazine profile, required him to “park my Protestant sword at the door.” His story-of-the-Reformation tour, however, lets him draw on his own Lutheran tradition with his characteristic enthusiasm. That enthusiasm, in part, that has made him a such a successful travel entrepreneur, though he presumably knows when to stop amassing wealth: after all, it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Or so the New Testament has it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include 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.

Watch the Renaissance Painting, The Battle of San Romano, Get Brought Beautifully to Life in a Hand-Painted Animation

Before the advent of the motion picture, humanity had the theater — but we also had paintings. Though physically still by definition, paint on canvas could, in the hands of a sufficiently imaginative master, seem actually to move. Arguably this could even be pulled off with ochre and charcoal on the wall of a cave, if you credit the theory that paleolithic paintings constitute the earliest form of cinema. More famously, and much more recently, Rembrandt imbued his masterpiece The Night Watch with the illusion of movement. But over in Italy another painter, also working on a large scale, pulled it off differently two centuries earlier. The artist was Paolo Uccello, and the painting is The Battle of San Romano.

“The set of three paintings depicts the harrowing details of an epic confrontation between Florentine and Sienese armies in 1432,” writes Meghan Oretsky at Vimeo, which selected Swiss filmmaker Georges Schwizgebel’s short animated adaptation of the triptych as a Staff Pick Premiere. Completed in 2017, the film’s beginnings go back to 1962, when Schwizgebel was a gallery-touring art student in Italy.

“Even though I wasn’t normally moved by old paintings, this one made a strong impression on me and still does today,” he tells Vimeo. “I was also inspired by the use of cycles, or loops, which suited a moving version of this image perfectly.” Schwizgebel executed the animation itself over the course of six months, foregoing computer technology and painting each frame with acrylic on glass.

Scored by composer Judith Gruber-Stitzer, Schwizgebel’s “The Battle of San Romano” constitutes a kind of shape-shifting tour of the painting that first captivated him half a century ago. But what he would have seen at the Uffizi Gallery is only one third of Uccello’s composition, albeit the third that art historians consider central. The other two reside at the Louvre and the National Gallery, and you can see the latter’s piece discussed by Director of Collections and Research Caroline Campbell in the video above. Schwizgebel is hardly the first to react boldly to The Battle of San Romano; in the 15th century, Lorenzo de’ Medici was sufficiently moved to buy one part, then have the other two stolen and brought to his palace. If that’s the kind of act it has the power to inspire, perhaps it’s for the best that the triptych’s union didn’t last.

via Aeon

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include 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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