Hayao Miyazaki: A Master of Color and Magic

If you’ve never seen a Hayao Miyazaki film, I can honestly tell you that you are missing a truly amazing experience that reaches vastly beyond the general formula of film making. Miyazaki has the same power to refresh the magic of childhood that Disney had down pat during their prime (and some would argue, still have.) Whereas Disney films seem to have lost some of that luster, Miyazaki has displayed work that not only shimmered with the brilliance of gorgeous color, sound and storytelling, but is delivered with such a humble hand that as viewers we are never once reminded of the heart of the film until we are ready to hold it close to us. This is what makes Miyazaki a master.

Hayao Miyazaki founded his own animation studio, Studio Ghibli, in 1985 after working with Toei Animation in his early career as an in-between artist. Miyazaki was the second of four brothers, raised by a highly literate mother who tended to question societal norms. She later suffered from spinal tuberculosis and the family often moved, which a reflection of can be seen in Miyazaki’s perennial children’s classic, My Neighbor Totoro.

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From an early point in Miyazaki’s career, his films shared the theme of environmentalism and rarely featured one-track characterizations. The first introduction of the former was in his 1984 film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, in which he tells the story of Nausicaa, princess of the peaceful Valley of the Wind. The adventure focuses on Nausicaa’s humane approach to the chaos happening in the world around her and brings up humanistic and ecological concerns rarely seen in animation at the time of its release. The film was well received in Japan, selling nearly a million tickets and landing Miyazaki squarely on the map of the Japanese awareness.

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Western recognition of Miyazaki began in 1997 with his ecological masterpiece, Princess Mononoke, although he had released many films between it and Nausicaa, including Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso and Kiki’s Delivery Service, all gorgeous films to be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Mononoke is considered Miyazaki’s most violent and adult film, yet it actually held the top spot in Japan’s highest grossing films of all time before the release of Titanic. It’s a gorgeous, resonant adventure that is not to be missed, especially if you are proactive about the preservation of nature.

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Miyazaki actually retired after Princess Mononoke, but after becoming inspired by a young daughter of one of his friends, he got back in the saddle to create Spirited Away, which is a tale about a girl who accidentally stumbles into a spirit world after her parents are transformed into pigs. Vivid with color and poignancy, Spirited Away won Miyazaki the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, not to mention many other awards in Japan.

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Miyazaki’s most recent film, 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle, was adapted from Diane Wynne Jones’ fantasy novel and was actually the film to bring Miyazaki fully out of retirement. He is currently at work on a new picture called Ponyo on a Cliff. In the meantime, his films are doing quite well in America thanks to a distribution deal with Disney, thanks to which the majority of his excellent body of work is now readily available for the American consumer.

Miyazaki is more than just a filmmaker with great talent in his use of color: he’s a storyteller who uses multiple means to achieve a truly unique end with each tale he chooses to tell — color, sound, light, fantasy, reality, childhood and adulthood effortlessly intermingle in each of his films. He is a true artisan, and since his kind are few are far between, I cannot urge you enough to not only share these beautiful films with your children, but to revel in them yourself, as they are sure to touch your heart in an unexpected and magical way.

More pictures from the Miyazaki film collection:

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Colette has written for a number of video game websites including Gamasutra, Kotaku, and Destructoid and co-hosted one hundred episodes of gaming podcast RetroforceGo! She also founded her own collectible toy culture blog in 2008, Tomopop.com, which has since served the needs of over 2 million plastic-obsessed readers.