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January 5

January 5, 1941 – Prominent Film Director and Animator Hayao Miyazaki is born.

John Lasseter (L) and Hayao Miyazaki

“When you see a movie of his, you see something in film you’ve never seen before.” – John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

If Japanese animation legend Tezuka Osamu is known as the Japanese Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki could be seen as the Japanese John Lasseter: both men’s works have changed the landscape of animation for future generations.

Miyazaki was born to a well-to-do family on the outskirts of Tokyo in 1941. He and his family were forced to evacuate their home during World War Two (although they were able to move back in 1950), and in 1947, Miyazaki began school as an evacuee. Wartime events would have an impact in his work, one example being his 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle. Like many children in post-war Japan, Miyazaki was inspired by the works of Tezuka Osamu (best known for his work Astro Boy), who had just made a big impact with his comic New Treasure Island. In fact, most of Miyazaki’s early work was, as he acknowledged, heavily inspired by Osamu, even as Miyazaki struggled to develop his own artistic direction, and it was only when he became an animator at Toei Animation that he felt he had finally shaken off the influence.

Miyazaki had several other influences: He studied political science and economics at Gakushuin University, and was part of a children’s literature research society, where members read many stories, including European texts, exposing him to a wide range of fantasy and legends. After leaving university in 1963, he joined Toei Animation Studios, working as an inbetweener after three months’ training. He first gained recognition for his work on the film Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon in 1965. He was able to pitch his own ending to the film when he found the original one unsatisfactory, and his ending was used in the final product. Miyazaki married fellow animator Akemi Ota in 1965.

Miyazaki continued to play important roles including animator, concept artist, and storywriter for various films, including Hols: Prince of the Sun (1968), Puss in Boots (1969), and Animal Treasure Island (1971). In 1971, Miyazaki left Toei and joined A Pro to work with Isao Takahata, and also worked for Nippon Animation, which he left in 1979 in order to direct his first feature animated film, The Castle of Cagliostro.

In 1984, Miyazaki had his big breakthrough in animated film with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, based on the comic he had written (first published in 1982, and serialized until its completion in 1994). This film introduced many themes that occur frequently in his later films: environmental issues, feminism, pacifism, and an interest in flight and aircraft. The success of the film, and the need to establish a new production center, led Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, along with producer Toshio Suzuki, to form Studio Ghibli, a subsidiary of Tokuma Publishing.

In 1996, Disney made a deal with Tokuma to distribute the Studio Ghibli works, excluding Grave of the Fireflies, and Ocean Waves. Since then, Disney has released the films on DVD, with the likes of John Lasseter and Pete Docter from Pixar helping to create the English-dubbed version. Spirited Away, the only traditionally animated and foreign animated film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, brought Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli to the world stage. John Lasseter noted that “since Spirited Away was released in the United States, it has created a large following for Miyazaki-san’s work. Since then they’ve released on DVD most of Miyazaki-san’s films, so there’s a lot of people – a lot more Miyazaki fans in the United States now than there was when Spirited Away was released.” Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Studios have also seen success with release of Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo.

The main character of Spirited Away, Chihiro.

Miyazaki has been a great inspiration to many animators, from the staff at Pixar to the animators at Walt Disney Studios. John Lasseter is a close friend of Miyazaki’s, and has mentioned on numerous occasions how Miyazaki’s films inspire the animators at Pixar. “He is one of the great filmmakers living today,” says Lasseter. “When you see a movie of his, you see something in film you’ve never seen before. . . His films have always been inspirational for me and for everyone at Pixar…It’s interesting to talk to people and they have different interpretations of it. And that’s what’s so special about [Miyazaki’s] films…they make you think. Miyazaki’s films always make you think. And that’s what’s so special about them. And that’s why they get better. Just like a fine wine, they get better with age, because you keep watching them and you understand them more and more, and that’s what I just love about them. …[T]hey’ll live on forever.”

Animator Glen Keane (Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled) has also been inspired by the animation style of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. “Well, it’s hard to ever separate the huge influence that Japanese animation has had on me,” he says. “I was just in awe of Miyazaki’s work, and have emulated his sensitivity, his approach to staging. That had a gigantic impact on our films, starting with Rescuers Down Under, where you saw the huge Japanese influence on our work. That’s part of our heritage now, which we don’t back away from.”

I included Miyazaki for several reasons: 1) Disney does have distribution rights to the Studio Ghibli films; 2) many animators in Pixar have worked on the English translation of the films; and 3) the influence the Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki has had on Disney and Pixar is unmistakable. Many people find the films inspirational both for the stories being told and the animation style. There is no denying the impact Miyazaki has had on the animation world.


One response »

  1. So true! 🙂 I first fell in love with Studio Ghibli after watching the bus stop scene of Totoro, but the one that really took my breath away has got to be Spirited Away, which was such a strange, new concept!

    Thank you for today’s update! 🙂


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