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How do Miyazaki films capture the essence of humanity?

Totoro at bus stop

Hayao Miyazaki is the creator of some of my earliest experiences with Japanese manga and anime. I believe Totoro was the first anime I ever saw, back when I was going to college in the Bay Area. I met a girl at a bus stop and we started talking about the stories we loved. Next thing I knew, I was at her apartment and she was translating Totoro on the fly while we watched it. Sayaka, I will forever be grateful for your introduction to the joys of Japanese art and its beautiful language. (Edit: I just realized I told this story a few posts ago, but what can I say? It’s a key moment in my life.)

This video (below) is 17 minutes of beautiful art and wisdom from a master at storytelling. The narrator of the film also makes some insightful comments. “Sentiment is what seeps from the pores of a Miyazaki film.”

Miyazaki creates settings that evoke feelings. The landscapes are not static or flat. Often, they are in valleys or mountains. The weather interacts with the characters and their moods. As a writer and artist, I want to learn to use this effect in my own work.

Each scene focuses on portraying the emotion of that moment. We don’t need to watch the rest of the film to understand the emotions being felt by the characters in that moment. Their feelings are evident in their postures, their expressions, the colors and surroundings. How would it be for me to craft the scenes of my fiction this way?

The environment and circumstances of Miyazaki films make it clear that the world does not exist to cater to the comfort or desire of the humans in it.

Brutality and savagery co-exist with compassion and tenderness. The two do not cancel each other out, but they create the realm of contrast and tension within which we live.

His stories do not talk about fate so much as will. The characters adapt to their surroundings and find ways to rise above the things that would cripple or try to destroy them. Characters begin with things they desire, but often find that it is something else entirely that they need.

One leaves a Miyazaki film with the subconscious idea, “I can overcome the challenges of my life” and “I want to be that person who faces brutality with courage and kindness.” How beautiful is art that equips the viewer for the pains of life on earth!

What do you usually take away from his films? Leave a comment below!


Thanks to speculative fiction author Laura VanArendonk Baugh for bringing this video to my attention!

Want more Hayao Miyazaki? Check these out:

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