I know, I know. This may sound like a rant piece but just hear me out.
As I have said in my last two articles that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Japanese animation. I find their offerings far superior in terms of characters, themes and their overall maturity compare to our western counterpart.
So what does this have to do with Hayao Miyazaki? Let me explain
About a few weeks ago, I was discussing anime films and Miyazaki in general with an old friend of mine and we kept talking about what we liked and disliked in general. While we both agreed that we were a fan of Miyazaki, we constantly disagreed over the “maturity” of his films and what really meant mature to us. Later during that day, I just couldn’t stop thinking about this.
To his credit, Miyazaki’s earlier films such as, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa of the valley of the wind and Howl’s Moving Castle dealt with mature themes indeed such as war, the effect of progression on nature and our relationship with it but he tackled them in a way where they never amounted to anything. They were just part of the background.
He never ventured outside of his comfort zone, which consists of a mishmash of reality with elements of fantasy. His films were never really about anything. You look at his more recent output and there is nothing of substance or depth.
It is not that I think Miyazaki is a one trick pony, there are elements of scifi in quite a few of his movies and i believe that they guy could do any genre he tried but rather he never actually tried to make the medium grow. He never tried to experiment. A good director tries to reinvent the wheel, to try telling stories in different and unique ways.
In stark contrast, his peers, such as Mamoru Oshii or Satoshi Kon and Katsuhiro Otomo made brilliant films ranging from psychological crime thrillers, political conspiracies to cyberpunk classics.
Satoshi Kon’s films, Perfect Blue and Paprika were major influences on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Much like Scorsese’s Hugo, Kon’s Millennium Actress is a celebration of Japanese film industry and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell was clearly inspired by Blade Runner and became the basis for The Matrix. His earlier films such as Jin Roh The Wolf Brigade and Patlabor are excellent studies on Post War Japan, and Akira…well, there are no words that I can use here to tell you how how incredible of a film that is. Now you tell me which Miyazaki film has gone on to garner on that much influence.
Fun Fact: Darren Aronofsky actually holds the rights for Perfect Blue so he could shoot some scenes for Black Swan which are very similar to Kon’s film and wrote a tribute piece for him in The Art of Satoshi Kon.
What I am really trying to say is that Oshii and Kon actually tried to use the medium for something other than making light and fluffy crowd pleasing films with just enough depth to please adults and critics. To his credit the only thing Miyazaki has done for the anime medium is to make anime more mainstream, but even that is because of John Lasseter and Disney’s backing behind his films. Sadly, Kon passed away due to Pancreatic Cancer and Oshii has abandoned anime for live action film-making.
Imagine what if Miyazaki tried to tackle other genres like science fiction, horror or comedy. The results would have been incredible.
I find it sad that ever since his retirement, Studio Ghibli is doing so badly financially that they had stopped making films altogether and is restructuring the way it does business. Since many anime studios in Japan alternate between making big budget films and smaller television shows but Studio Ghibli never went that route and even their film making process was very expensive.
It hurts me to see talent like Miyazaki and the entire Studio Ghibli being pigeonholed like this. And that is why we need to stop worshiping Hayao Miyazaki as this infallible idol. Who in reality made very good but in my opinion very good albeit forgettable films.