Hayao Miyazaki Research Paper

Research Paper – Hayao Miyazaki – An Auteur?

Hayao Miyazaki, born in 1941, co-founder of the famous Japanese Anime company Studio Ghibli, retired in 1986. And he retired again in 1992. He retired for a third time in 1997, then again in 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2013. He started working on his current film, “How Do You Live?” in 2017, although no official release date has been announced yet. Confusing huh? Hayao Miyazaki is an Auteur who just can’t let go. 

I have been fascinated by Studio Ghibli, which was founded in 1985, and its films, for a long time, ever since my Dad took me to Norden Farm Arts Theatre in Maidenhead to see the Studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises (2013), by Hayao Miyazaki. I was eleven, and although it could technically be called a “cartoon”, the word “cartoon” doesn’t even begin to express the beauty, the emotion and the message of The Wind Rises (2013). The culmination of the film is the protagonist’s wife dying of tuberculosis, not really traditional cartoon material. Despite all his films being animations, which are often thought of as having a target audience of children, Hayao Miyazaki does not shy away from deep subjects like death, and his films are watched as much by adults as they are by children. The production and artwork of his hand-drawn animations are beautiful. I was hooked.

I have watched many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films now but have never looked deeper at the amazing man who is a Japanese animator, director, producer, screenwriter, author and even manga artist. Susan Napier, Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese Studies at Tufts University, calls Hayao Miyazaki an Auteur. On Wikipedia he is under a list of famous film Auteurs, along with famous directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman and Alfred Hitchcock. Our tutor, Attila, has spoken of Auteurs. So, I wanted to find out more about the creator of some of my favourite films, and why he is regarded as an Auteur. My Thesis Statement is “Hayao Miyazaki is accurately described as an Auteur of the film industry”.

For this research paper I intend to find out information online. I will use Google to find useful written works, for example extracts from several books, written by Susan Napier (mentioned in my Introduction), on the subject of Hayao Miyazaki. I will use YouTube to watch useful videos on the subject. And I will use the Studio Ghibli DVDs that I already have by Hayao Miyazaki. I will attempt to find an agreed definition of an Auteur, see whether Hayao Miyazaki fits this definition and then examine the effect that he has had on both the film industry and on the world.

Finding an agreed upon definition of an Auteur is not easy. The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Auteur theory as “theory of filmmaking in which the director is viewed as the major creative force in a motion picture.” 

The phrase “Auteur theory” came from Andrew Sarris, an American Film Critic, in a 1962 essay that he wrote, “Notes on the Auteur Theory”, and is his translation of the term “La politique des auteurs” from Francois Truffaut in 1954. Truffaut didn’t like it when directors were “faithful to the script”, he felt that better films were made when the director could put their own stamp on it and draw attention to things that they felt were important, sharing this with the audience. Truffaut became a major director of the French New Wave. I found that although Andrew Sarris introduced the term “Auteur theory” in 1962, he was referring to a theory that actually started in France in the late 1940’s. As often happens, things don’t get “names” until after they happened, like Film Noir.

The term Auteur also refers to filmmakers or directors with a “recognisable style or thematic preoccupation” and films bearing the “unmistakable personal stamp of the director”.

Another definition of an Auteur is someone who writes, directs, edits and has complete control over a production.

My interpretation of what I found out is that an Auteur is someone who is passionate about the films they are making, the message that they are giving out, and the effect that they have on the world. I know that if I manage to eventually become a Fiction Film/TV Director I will have to keep a strong eye on the money side of things, and I’m sure that many directors who are described as Auteurs are also very aware of the financial side of things. But I get the feeling that the money is certainly not the most important thing for them. 

I believe that Hayao Miyazaki certainly meets the definition of being a major creative force in his motion pictures. He writes the script, does the storyboards, creates artwork, directs, edits, he does everything. All Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films before 1997 were entirely hand drawn, with a very particular Miyazaki style. 

His hand-drawn films are instantly recognisable. He uses bright colours to represent nature, which he feels we should protect, and but he does not shy away from using dark colours when showing the polluting affects that we, humans, have on the world. This “humans polluting” message is one that I have seen in many of his films, for example in Spirited Away (2001). He says that when he started out, he couldn’t draw people. But he wanted to put people in his films, and Steven Spielberg has commented on one thing that he loves about Hayao Miyazaki films is that they are character led rather than plot lead. So being able to draw people was very important to Hayao Miyazaki. In order to learn, he studied people and practised and practised until he was happy with his drawings of people. The people in his films have a very recognisable style, which you see repeated throughout all his films. I like that he also says that since everyone is different, he makes his each of his characters move differently, and have different facial expressions. 

He also certainly has a “recognisable style or thematic preoccupation”. On one level, there are his preoccupation with flying and planes. I read that all his films contain planes or flying. The protagonist, Jiro, in my first ever Studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises (2013) is from a fictionalised biography of the aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982). Until I started this research, I hadn’t realised that even the name “Ghibli”, that Hayao Miyazaki chose as the name for the Studio, is the name of an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca 309. 

But at a deeper level, his films are all linked by “the recurrence of themes such as humanity’s relationship (and conflict) with nature and technology, the wholesomeness of natural and traditional patterns of living, the importance of art and craftsmanship, and the difficulty of maintaining a pacifist ethic in a violent world.” As regards the environment and its preservation, I feel that he was ahead of the game for many years. In Spirited Away (2001) I love the part where the protagonist Chihiro, a young girl, helps a River Spirit to get rid of loads of human rubbish that has accumulated within the River Spirit. One of the first items that she removes for it is an old bicycle, discarded in the river by humans. 

Which raises another point. Right from the start Hayao Miyazaki has frequently had strong female protagonists like Chihiro in Spirited Away (2001). Other examples are Kiki, a young witch, in Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) and the professors two daughters, Satsuki and Mei, in My Neighbour Totoro (1988). In 2002, Hayao Miyazaki told American Film Critic Roger Ebert that “I wanted to make a movie especially for the daughters of my friends”. He was referring to Spirited Away (2001) but I would say this could refer to any of his movies. I found an article from 2020 called “Why Studio Ghibli might just be the most feminist film franchise of all time”, with a quote that said, “it was Studio Ghibli, a film studio that has been churning out relatable interesting female characters for decades, that has paved the way for films like Inside Out (2015)”. Inside out (2015) has a female protagonist and no romantic ending. 

I also find it interesting that the title of Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) makes you think that Howl (a male character) is the protagonist. When you watch it, you realise that it is really about a girl, Sophie, who actually saves Howl, a nice twist to Propps Character Theory. Hayao Miyazaki says “I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and a girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live – if I’m able to, then I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love”. 

I really like this comment, it’s how I feel. I’m not a big fan of RomCom type movies, or movies where the boy keeps chasing the girl and won’t take no for an answer. I want to make the same kind of films as Hayao Miyazaki in this area, based on friendship, not romance. It’s great to know that Hayao Miyazaki is having an effect here, both in films and the world due to people writing about it. 

In my opinion, having watched many now, Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki films are unmistakable. The style is unique. The themes are consistent. The beauty of the animation is amazing. There is one quote that I have seen quite a lot, and that is that Hayao Miyazaki is Japan’s Walt Disney. I disagree, as do many people who posted comments after these quotes. I know this comment is meant well, and even John Lasseter (Pixar Animations) said it, meaning it as a compliment, when he introduced Hayao Miyazaki at an awards ceremony. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney films, and Walt Disney’s Mission Statement is “to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling…” 

That’s a great mission, I’m all for “unparalleled storytelling”, it’s what I want to do and why I want to become a Fiction Film/TV director. However, it goes on to say, “… reflecting the iconic brands, creative minds and innovative technologies that make ours the world’s premier entertainment company.” This is a very American idea, to want to be the “world’s premier entertainment company”. When I looked at what Hayao Miyazaki wants, he is “devoted first of all to the integrity of his artistic principles”. This is also reflected in the fact that Studio Ghibli actually limit the overall sales of merchandise because they say that Studio Ghibli “sells films more than anything else”. Which I say differentiates Hayao Miyazaki from the Disney franchise, in a positive way. Although I do agree that Walt Disney was also revolutionary in his time.

I would say that Hayao Miyazaki’s aims tie in strongly with the various definitions of an Auteur that I found. His Art Form is of more importance to him than the money. He also wants to make a difference, both in animation and in the world, which I really admire. I hadn’t known that as well as being the name of a plane, “Ghibli” also comes from an Arabic word meaning “a hot air blowing in from the Sahara Desert”. In other words – wind.

This meaning is particularly relevant because I also found out that Hayao Miyazaki deliberately chose it because he wanted “to blow new wind through the anime industry”. He, and all of Studio Ghibli, have been a “consistent force in putting quality before anything else in their films”. What I think is great is that they have had both commercial success by doing this and won critical acclaim. I think that too often people think that you have to either forgo your principles to make money or accept low returns to stick to your beliefs. I like that Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have shown that you can do both. 

I studied Japanese for a few years as part of my home education. I can’t remember much Japanese, I now realise that my dyslexia, although an advantage for envisioning moving images (films) in my mind, was not helpful in learning languages. However, I do remember our teacher telling us that Japanese art has always been a key part of Japanese culture. The two are inextricably linked. My research for this paper backed that up. And Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have actually changed the culture in Japan through the artistry and quality of their films. Before Studio Ghibli, amine was looked down on in the film industry. I was surprised to find this out. I really like anime, my friends and I talk about it a lot, and Attack on Titan, an anime series that some of my friends and I watch each week is on season 4 and is very popular. I’d describe it as the Game of Thrones of the anime world, with major characters getting killed off unexpectedly pretty frequently. According to Parrot Analytics, in the week of Jan 31-Feb 6, Attack on Titan was the most popular show in the USA, beating Spongebob Squarepants into second place and Saturday Night Live into 3rd place. Anime is popular. However, that wasn’t the case when Studio Ghibli started out. Studio Ghibli’s first film, Castle in the Sky (1986) written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, started to change this. 

By the time that Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) was produced in 1989, Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki were beginning to have an impact on the industry. Spirited Away (2001) won many awards, including winning the top prize at the 2002 Berlin International Film Festival and being named best picture in the 2003 Academy Awards. A piece of info I found particularly interesting is that Spirited Away (2001) replaced Titanic (1997) as the top-grossing film in Japanese history at the time. In one way I was not surprised by this, since I know that Spirited Away (2001) is an amazing film. But, in another way, I am surprised because Titanic (1997) is a hugely popular film. I checked and Titanic (1997) is still the 6th highest grossing film in North America (5th if you adjust for inflation) and the 3rd highest grossing film in the world. Even now, Spirited Away is still the 2nd highest grossing film in Japan. It has been beaten only recently by Demon Slayer (2020). I’m not sure about Demon Slayer (2020), I’m not convinced it will live up to the hype, but it is another anime, which shows the effect that Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have had.

I would say that Hayao Miyazaki succeeded in blowing new wind not just through the anime industry, but also through anyone who has seen his films, including both John Lasseter (Pixar) and Steven Spielberg, both of whom have credited their inspiration as coming from Hayao Miyazaki’s films. John Lasseter called him “one of the greatest filmmakers of our time”. The message, that we need to re-examine our human relationship with the environment, has never been more relevant than it is today. The movement for strong female leads has never been stronger and people recognise Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli as leaders in that area. I am certainly inspired to take many of Hayao Miyazaki’s messages forward into my own filmmaking in the future. 

I believe that my research and discussion show that Hayao Miyazaki meets the definition of Auteur that I found, and so my research has confirmed my Thesis Statement. Yes, “Hayao Miyazaki is accurately described as an Auteur of the film industry”.

Maybe Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki are not quite as well-known outside of Japan as Marvel. Maybe Hayao Miyazaki’s films don’t draw as big an audience worldwide as Star Wars films. But my research and discussion have satisfied me that Hayao Miyazaki is a true Auteur of our time. It is very exciting to see the process of his influence on the film industry and on the world playing out in front of me. To see that films don’t just have to be big Hollywood Blockbusters to have an influence. To see more and more people hearing Hayao Miyazaki’s messages. If anyone reading this hasn’t yet watched any Hayao Miyazaki films, I highly recommend that you do. If you like immersive, character-led, beautifully drawn and animated, inspiring, thought-provoking, culture-changing, mesmerising films, then Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli Animations are for you. If you want to tell stories, you need to watch Hayao Miyazaki’s incredible films. You won’t regret it. 

It makes me very excited for my own future in the film industry. I can really see, in about 20 years’ time, that the way things are going, Hayao Miyazaki will be as well-known as the other famous Auteurs that I mentioned at the start. They made a huge impact. Hopefully Hayao Miyazaki will continue to do so too and make the world a better place while he’s at it.