Miyazaki’s movies aren’t just cute little anime films about fantasy stories, characters, and ideas, they are much more deep rooted than that. For starters, all of his movies incorporate a culture or belief that becomes a main feature or influence in each of his stories. These cultures along with the countries that they originate from are some of the main influences and inspirations for Miyazaki’s films. In addition to the portrayal of various cultures and ways of life, the films also contain some really deep messages such as humans being able to coexist peacefully with nature and raising awareness of the global issues of pollution, along with moral values, such as perseverance, courage, and compassion. Many people, including other animation studios like Disney and Pixar, respect Miyazaki and really admire him for being able to bring such interesting and diverse characters and stories to life, while also including all of these elements. For those reasons, Miyazaki’s work has also influenced a variety of other animations. But I’ll touch base with that later.
First up we have …
Spirited Away: (An idea or concept brought to life) Jiufen, a town in Taiwan, is often cited as an inspiration for the spirit world’s design. But Japanese culture also plays a huge role in the clothing, food, architecture, and the way the characters interact with each other. There are various ways in which this movie can be interpreted. Most people believe that this movie effectively shows the functions of a brothel, in which men could come to meet loose women at a bathhouse and pay them to perform sexual favors. Miyazaki admitted to this and said that he wanted to show a realistic portrayal of Japanese culture because he believed that the sex industry was a big trend in this period of time. However, others look at it differently, saying that it shows great symbolism because spirits are usually connected with nature so some see it as a representation that the bathhouse is where the spirits come to clean themselves from the gunk that pollutes the environment. This movie mainly focuses on Chihiro’s transition to adulthood and the hardships she faced along the way. You can really see her growth throughout the film.
My Neighbor Totoro: (A story from Japanese history) seems to tell the story of the infamous Japanese murder case from the 1960s called the Sayama incident, which was a murder case named after the Japanese city of Sayama, where it happened. On May 1st, 1963 a 16-year-old girl, Yoshie Nakata, went missing on her walk home from school. Later that evening a random note was delivered asking for ¥200,000, which the missing girl’s older sister brought to the designated place. When the man came to collect the cash he became suspicious and ran off before the police could catch him, and on the morning of May 4th the body of the missing girl was found buried on a farm. Following the murder, the Yoshie Nakata’s older sister later committed suicide. Although the Studio Ghibli denies the two stories having any relation, the amount of similarities raise suspicion. If they are related then my neighbor totoro is based off of that case and the subliminal messages make sense. Some people see Totoro as the spirit of death because after a while of hanging out with Totoro the girl is said to have gone missing. Then her older sister runs around desperately trying to find totoro because she needs help finding her sister and has a feeling that he can help her. Later on, after the sisters are reunited, totoro takes them to see their mother in the hospital. They never actually go in the building, but they do leave a gift on the window sill. They then disappear as if leaving the implication that they are only there in spirit. If the stories are connected then this movie dips into a little bit of Japanese events in history.
Ponyo: (based off of a story/idea or concept) is credited by being inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Little Mermaid, but Miyazaki told reporters his inspiration was more abstract than that. He says, “I feel like I’m searching in my subconscious with a fishing net, and I happened upon catching a goldfish in that net. That was the inspiration for starting to make this movie.” Ponyo reflects more modern environmental perspectives than the The little Mermaid, as Ponyo’s adventures cause massive storms that threaten humanity. Miyazaki wants his young audience to appreciate the environment. He says that the most important thing, is that children grow up learning to love and enjoy their environment. He also has a family message as well, as Ponyo’s parents must correct the imbalance caused by their daughter. He also wanted to send the message of family values and having families see each other as valuable and precious. That’s the main thing.
Kiki’s Delivery Service: (A children’s book) 1985 children’s fantasy novel written by Eiko Kadono and illustrated by Akiko Hayashi. The movie portrays the gulf between independence and reliance in teenage Japanese girls. Miyazaki has noted that the town of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden is the main visual inspiration behind Koriko. Fictional Koriko is, however, much larger than Visby and features buildings and shops with the look of Stockholm. Being talented does not mean that you are unique or having an easy life. It is not something granted and can be lost, unless you try your best to understand it and develop its potential. It may even be a responsibility instead of an advantage. In Kiki’s case, flying not only makes her to stand out from other girls, but also brings her loneliness, and leads her towards independence.
Grave of the Fireflies: ( Based off of a true story and dips into Japanese history) a 1967 semi-autobiographical short story by Japanese author Akiyuki Nosaka. It is based on his experiences before, during, and after the firebombing of Kobe in 1945. It focuses on the relationship between a brother and sister and their love for each other and optimism even in the darkest of times.
Castle in the sky: (based off of a book) Miyazaki was quite taken by the work of Max and David Fleischer, and often reflected that in his own work. Back in 1979, while Miyazaki was animating the TV series Lupin, he paid tribute to the classic Fleischer Bros’ Superman episode, The Mechanical Monsters, in which a giant robot is used to rob banks. In the Lupin season two episode Farewell Beloved Lupin, we again see a giant robot pressed into service as a bank robber – and the design of the robot is almost identical to the ones Miyazaki put in Laputa seven years later.
A research trip to Wales in the early 1980s during the Miner’s strike provided the inspiration for the mining community where Pazu lives. Miyazaki was inspired by classic western literature because this film was based off of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and decided to even name the castle after the flying island called Laputa – unfortunately, Miyazaki unaware at the time that ‘Laputa’ means ‘The Whore’ in Spanish, which is why the movie’s simply called Castle In The Sky in some countries. Miyazaki takes these influences and makes it into something personal and new. The messages in this movie consists of the effects of hard work, greed, and features caretaking as the main focus is that humans and nature can and should coexist peacefully. Although it’s a goal that seems difficult to achieve, it can be done.
Princess Mononoke: (based off of actual events in history) Inspired by medieval Japan during the Muromachi Period, on the dawn of industrial revolution. Yakushima inspired Princess Mononoke’s setting. The island’s Shiratani Ravine is home to an area that is know dubbed “Mononoke Hime no Mori” (もののけ姫の森) or “Princess Mononoke’s Forest.” The film touches on various conflicts that arise such as man vs man with people having opposing views and therefore fighting with each other, man vs nature where man’s destruction has upset nature enough that nature is fighting back, and man vs life because this was during a time when resources were becoming limited and they were struggling to survive.
Influences on other animations: Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos) stated that the influence of Miyazaki is present throughout all of his films.One of the alien species in Star Trek: The Next Generation is named “Nausicaäns” after the heroine in Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind popular manga series and film. Recently Disney caught on with films like Frozen and Brave, featuring intrepid young girls facing great odds with wit and determination. Even Toy Story couldn’t have been put together without the inspiration from a Miyazaki film. When pixar has a problem that they don’t know how to fix they watch a screening of a Miyazaki film for inspiration and it always works. John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Disney’s Pixar, and Hayao Miyazaki forged a friendship in the early 1980’s over a mutual admiration of each other’s work, and Lasseter convinced Disney to go ahead with the unconventional deal with Studio Ghibli that allowed American audiences to experience Spirited Away.
John Lasseter has become inspired by Miyazaki’s works to take on the challenge of creating children’s films incorporating some adult themes in order to create movies that a whole family, including adults and children, can enjoy together.
The Directors of Disney’s Mulan even calls Miyazaki a God because of everything he’s been able to create and bring to life. But this is just the tip of the iceberg with how many people are inspired and influenced by the amazing work of Hayao Miyazaki.