Hayao Miyazaki and the Splendor of Nature

Viewing a Hayao Miyazaki (or really any Studio Ghibli film) undoubtedly involves awestruck wonderment at the beautifully hand painted backgrounds. I recently had to watch most of his films again for a research paper, and even though they’re all very familiar to me, I remained captivated as a viewer. Watching his films is like living in a painting for a few hours.

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All gifs courtesy of Studio Ghibli gifs

All of Miyazaki’s films are a visual treat, and always include lush landscapes that celebrate the beauty of the natural world- which are reflective of his own environmental concerns. I admire how he combines the Kurosawa-esque shots of sweeping, dramatic landscapes-

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– with more intimate shots:

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The environments are so immersive, and the fact that they’re entirely created by artists, rather than a set designer, lends them a more magical and fantastic quality, despite their obvious painstaking realism. I guess the realism anchors the more fantastic elements:

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Overall, Miyazaki’s films all reflect a deep appreciation and respect for the natural world, and the importance of preserving it. He’s stated: “For me, the deep forest is connected in some way to the darkness in my heart. I feel that if it is erased, then the darkness in my heart would also disappear, and my existence would grow shallow.”

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The Wonderful Women of Miyazaki Films

I’m on a Miyazaki kick! I’m writing a paper on his films, so they’ve definitely been taking up residence in my mind lately. Every time I think about these films I’m always in awe of how considered, complex, and just plain dignified the female heroines and regular characters are. There’s no fan service exploitation, no pandering- these characters are like real people, even while doing extraordinary things.

There’s, of course, Nausicaa, the titular heroine from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (first a manga, then a movie, both by Miyazaki.) I was thumbing through my copy of Nausicaa: Watercolor Impressions and was struck by this image (which warrants re-posting!):

I just love how powerful she looks, just sitting there. And you really get a feel for the burdens that she’s carrying. In Miyazaki’s comments on it, he said “I never liked drawing standard heroine pictures of Nausicaa looking cheerful… When she’s alone, I always imagined her looking very unapproachable. Not because she was intimidating, but because of a quiet isolation, like she wasn’t a part of her surroundings at all.” I find it amazing how deeply he thinks of his characters, seeing them as human beings, rather than devices or objects. Do I think that the same amount of thought went into most of the Disney Princesses? I doubt it. I would love to see an image like this of a Disney princess in a non-fan art capacity, but they simply don’t exist.

And who could forget San from Princess Mononoke? The titular heroine is just an unabashed bad-ass:

She’s fierce, quick thinking, and a true warrior. We’re introduced to her in battle- she moves swiftly and almost catlike. But she doesn’t fight for the sake of fighting, she fights to protect her forest from destruction by other humans (mainly the also bad ass lady Eboshi)- so much so that she’s developed a hatred of humans, and even rejects her own humanity.

from Studio Ghibli gifs

What I love about San is that she has her own obvious motivations to pursue- she’s not just an accessory to the main male protagonist of the film. She has her own story arc that’s integral to the film. AND her warrior garb isn’t exploitatively sexified- it looks believably like something someone raised by mythical wolf-beasts would wear.

Then, we have Ursula from Kiki’s Delivery Service

From Studio Ghibli Gifs

-not exactly a heroine, but a secondary character. She’s a painter who befriends Kiki on one of her delivery misadventures. Watching the movie when I was older, I was struck by just how amazing it is that we see a young woman who lives a very solitary life in the woods, and not once in the film is this ever treated as a Big Deal. We’re never told to pity her, she never shows indication of unhappiness/desperation- instead, she’s spunky, thoughtful, and full of life. She is shown to be perfectly well adjusted- and that’s pretty remarkable for a female character in any feature film, let alone one made primarily for young girls.

What’s great about these characters is that girls can relate to them incredibly easily, and/or look up to them just as easily, much more easily than with the more typical aspirational , shiny, idealized caricatures that dominated the Disney films and other anime of my childhood. There’s a place for those too (they can sometimes be a lot of fun) but I’m glad that I “met” these women in Miyazaki’s films when I was an impressionable young girl, and I’m glad to revisit them now, as a (hopefully wiser) adult.

Artbook of the Day: Nausicaa Watercolor Impressions

It’s no secret that I love fancy (and sometimes not so fancy) art books, nor is it a secret that I love Hayao Miyazaki films. So, it’s no surprise that I own nearly all of the art books in the Viz series about his films. They’re all weighty hardcovers with gorgeous illustrations, concept sketches, and other unseen gems from the making of each film. I love looking through these books every once in a while- I find comfort in visiting his fantastical worlds, given that I grew up with his films.

One such book that sort of stands out from the rest is Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Watercolor Impressions. This book more emphasizes concept work than the others, given that Nausicaa was originally a manga penned and illustrated solely by Miyazaki in gorgeous watercolor.

One of Miyazaki’s favorite illustrations of princess Nausicaa

Nausicaa is such an amazing film (unfortunately I haven’t read the manga yet,) about a post apocalyptic (pre-apocalyptic?) and environmentally damaged planet. As a result, the planet tries to heal itself- by eliminating all humans. It’s up to the spunky, empathetic princess Nausicaa to save the day, which culminates in a heartbreaking climax where she begs the planet to forgive the human race-a theme that Miyazaki revisits in his proceeding work. It’s such a beautiful story, and even after all these years, relevant. I was always struck by how powerful Miyazaki’s female heroines were- not necessarily in physical power, but there was just an energy behind them. They seemed like real people, with real emotions and conflicts behind their expressions. They make the highly idealized, wide-eyed faces of the Disney princesses seem vacant by comparison (I guess they look kinda vacant without doing a comparison…)

Of course, you come to a Miyazaki film for the great characters, but you stay for the incredible world-building (or is it the other way around?) He almost always features incredible flying machines-

lush landscapes-

-and incredible creatures of fancy, and sometimes destruction:

It was also interesting to see some early concept art Miyazaki made pre-Nausicaa. I especially loved this gem:

I love these books. It’s so amazing to be able to take a trip into a sketchbook see the thought process of one of the greatest artists of our time through his own personal sketches and paintings.