Guest Author - Gail Kavanagh
Hayao Miyazaki is one of the most compelling names in modern fantasy animation. His exquisite films have enchanted lovers of fine animation all over the world, with titles like Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle.
What makes his films so special is the great care and love he puts into them. The characters and the stories have a depth unusual in many modern animations. Miyazaki's worlds are literally out of this world, taking the viewer into lands of enchantment.
Born in Tokyo in 1941, Miyazaki was first employed by the Japanese studio Toei Douga as an animator. But his own talent and imagination called out to be expressed, and in 1984 he released his first animation – still a classic among fans – called Nausicaa, Valley of the Wind. Miyazaki drew on the manga of the same name that he had created earlier. This gorgeous film follows the quest of Princess Nausicaa from the Valley of the Winds, as she tries to bring peace to warring nations on a war shattered future earth.
Nausicaa's success led to the foundation of Miyazaki's own studio, Studio Ghibli, which has since released a string of his enchanting animations. Castle In The Sky was another hit, with Anna Paquin voicing the character of Sheeta in the version seen by western audiences. This was followed by the cute forest animals of My Neighbour Totoro, and other well received animations, but it was the release of Spirited Away in 2001 that really captivated the world.
In Spirited away, the absolute perfection of Miyazaki's enchanted worlds was fully evident. A little girl finds herself in another world, with her parents turned into pigs. Seeking a way to free them, she meets a host of strange, enchanted beings. She gets a job in a bathhouse run by an old woman called Yubaba, is helped by a mysterious boy called Haku, and encounters a lonely being called No Face. The beauty of the scenes and the depth and extraordinary fascination of the characters lifted this far above the usual saccharine Disney animation.
Miyazaki's next long animation was Howl's Moving Castle, and my personal favourite. Hauru lives in a castle that gets up on its legs and walks around, a wonderful Heath Robertson affair. The pretty Sofi is turned overnight into an old woman, and seeks refuge in the castle, falling in love with Hauru and trying to protect him. Based on a novel by English writer Diana Wynn Jones, Howl's Moving Castle marked a departure for Miyazaki to using material based on existing works, rather than his own. It is easy to fall in love with the characters in Howl's Moving Castle, particularly Sofi, and Diana Wynn Jones was reported to be as enchanted with the movie as any other fan.
Miyazaki's latest venture is based on another English children's work, The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. The trailers and previews show this to be an animation of heart tugging beauty. You can bet when I finally get my hands on a DVD, I will be happy to review it.
As long as Miyazaki goes on making his enchanting worlds come to life on the screen, I will never miss one!
About Hayao Miyazaki:
Starting Point: 1979-1996
One of Studio Ghibli's most enchanting movies:
Whisper of the Heart