So I know art is still alive and breathing in this creatively bankrupt world, but the news about legendary animator (and story wizard) Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement makes it a little harder to believe that. The film The Wind Rises will be his final contribution to cinema, a purportedly epic finale to an equally epic career, but still, it’s tragic to know one of the leading storytellers in film is calling it quits. The only bright side is that Miyazaki is fading into the shadows on his own terms. He’ll survive with a quiet legacy, one of the last visionaries to make truly imaginative, moving movies.
I recall the first Miyazaki film I saw. I was a young lad and I had never heard of the director, but the premise of Princess Mononoke sounded awesome (samurai and angry nature gods). Halfway through it, the film broke, but it was a pleasure to have to sit through the first half again. It was magical, to say the least (and I don’t call a lot of stuff magical). Miyazaki was able to blend spiritual matters with wrought-iron industrialism to show man’s ultimate destructive power, and the message of safeguarding nature, a motif present in his work, was apparent even to my young brain.
To those who are skeptical over the animated medium, I say watch any of Miyazaki’s films. They balance childlike playfulness and a brutal, emotional realism, meaning they resonate whether you are a little kid or an adult. Miyazaki’s stories are an inspiration, and show how elegantly powerful hand-drawn animation can be. And the themes that appear are universal. Miyazaki urges his audience to respect nature, to meditate on the wrongful behavior of violence, and to quietly fight for peace in a global culture of war. After only one Miyazaki film, it’s hard not to see at least a little bit of mystical business in the most mundane of things.
For the reader who’s never seen a Miyazaki flick, I’d suggest start with Princess Mononoke. It’s about warring samurai villages, the cost of industrialism, and a sweet deer god that controls life and death. Or My Neighbor Totoro, which is adorable and genius. As well, try Spirited Away; it’s a fantastical journey into the spirit world with lots of unexplained, mystical happenings. Castle in the Sky is probably his most solid movie, only because there’s a government ploy to harness the ultimate power (and in this one scene a robot messes a lot of stuff up). Just don’t watch the English dub, cause Anna Paquin keeps changing her accent weirdly.
If you’re like me, movie-watchers of the Internet, you know a whole bunch of movie all at once is awesome, so watch three or four of his movies in one day and try to convince yourself you’re not the least bit whimsical after. It’s tragic that after this year there may never be another Miyazaki picture, but at least he’s left a wealth of masterfully produced art to swim about in. Hayao, enjoy your retirement, you genius you.