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Development of Animation on the Example of the Hayao Miyazaki Works

Most consumers assume that the main objective of filmic endeavors such as animated stories is strictly to entertain the masses. Film certainly does serve to entertain. However, this media also acts as the link between people’s personal lives and events outside what they encounter in their everyday routine.

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Through entertainment, people can make a connection with sometimes very different ideas simply through their identification with the characters depicted on the screen. This connection serves as an important vehicle in the understanding of how society functions at the same time that it strengthens the public’s involvement in those decisions that affect their standard of living.

The media reflects and, as some speculate, shapes collective societal thought, something that directors such as Hayao Miyazaki are intimately aware of. Miyazaki is a Tokyo native who was born on January 5, 1941, only four years before his nation became the world’s object lesson for ridding the globe of nuclear weapons. His animation work has been largely dedicated to delivering a strongly environmentally-friendly, anti-war message to his audience. His characters are malleable, sometimes tending to the good, tending to the bad, and frequently retaining the capability of switching sides mid-movie.

Having already achieved a great deal of success in Japan and Central Asia, Miyazaki’s work was finally introduced to the Western world with Princess Mononoke in 1997. Since then, his films have continued to deliver these messages of malleable nature, pacifist means of solving disputes, and environmental responsibility. Miyazaki’s themes, heavily influenced by his own life experiences, can be discovered through a close analysis of his films.

Throughout his career, Miyazaki strongly developed animation techniques to provide his animated films with a great deal of the reality and impact of live-action which can be discovered when comparing films such as Nausicaa and the Four Winds and Princess Mononoke.


Hayao Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941, the second of four sons, to an affluent family of Akebono-cho, a province of Tokyo. His father was Katsuii, who worked as director of Miyazaki Airplane which belonged to Katsuii’s brother and manufactured rudders for the Japanese fighter planes during World War II. Miyazaki’s early love for the flight was engendered here as was his sense of guilt regarding his family’s profits from war at the price of the populace (McCarthy, 1999).

Throughout his early years, the family found it necessary to move often, both as a result of his mother’s need for treatment for her spinal tuberculosis and as a result of frequent evacuations as a result of the war. His interest in anime film was sparked when he saw the film Hakujaden, the first Japanese anime film to be produced in full-length color images; however, he pursued an education in political science and economics at Gakushuin University before seeking employment as an animator (Feldman, 1994).

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His professional career began at Toei Animation in the spring of his graduating year from Gakushuin as he worked on the anime film Watchdog Dow Wow. He worked on several projects at this corporation until 1971 when he left to join Takahata and Yoichi Otabe at A-pro. From here, he moved relatively quickly to Zuiyo Pictures in 1973 and then on again to take a position as animator instructor for Telecom in 1980 (Feldman, 1994).

Work on his first original feature film, Nausicaa and the Four Winds, started in 1983 and he had co-founded his own studio, Studio Ghibli, by 1985. In addition to his own life experiences and influences in the East, Miyazaki has acknowledged a number of Western influences as well, including writers Ursula K Le Guin, Lewis Carroll, Diana Wynne Jones and Antoine de Saint-Exupery among others (Shimbun, 2005). Artistic influences have included Jean Giraud, Yuriy Norshteyn and Aardman Studios.

Nausicaa and the Four Winds

Miyazaki was able to dedicate his first full-length animated film to the themes that would later characterize his work: anti-war, responsibility for nature, and the capacity of the human to change. These themes can be easily discerned in Miyazaki’s earlier film Nausicaa and the Four Winds (1984). From the very opening of the film, Miyazaki hits his audience with the anti-war message as he presents a world 1,000 years into the future that remains devastated by the “seven days of fire” that destroyed the ecosystem and most of civilization in the process.

The depth of this destruction goes so deep that the plants are still toxic, giving off toxic fumes into the atmosphere and the insects have become giant creatures with deadly possibilities. However, it isn’t long before he also illustrates that humans still haven’t learned the lesson of avoiding war as the war between the Peijte and the Tolmekians crashes into Nausicaa’s valley, bringing with them the embryo of the controversial biological weapon known as the Great Warrior.

While one side feels it should be destroyed and has been attempting to do so, the other plans to awaken it and lead it against the creatures in the toxic forest. Many people are killed unnecessarily before Nausicaa is able to prove that the toxic forest is actually working to clean the environment and return it to something humans can tolerate.

Thus, the film also manages to illustrate how responsibility for nature is repaid in kind by nature’s responsibility to humanity as well as the human’s capacity for change. Nausicaa spends her early life studying the nature of the toxic forest and comes to realize a special relationship with the creatures that live in it, particularly the intelligent Ohmu. Through this relationship, she can discover how the forest is clearing the land and making it available for new growth that would be beneficial for humans, thus demonstrating how the destruction of the forest would actually be self-destruction on the part of the humans.

At the same time, her relationship with the Ohmu, particularly as they work to save her life in the end, demonstrates nature’s willingness to work with people toward a better future. Kushana and the other people are then able to change their minds regarding the toxic forest and begin learning how to live in harmony with the giant insects that share their home.

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Princess Mononoke

The film that brought Miyazaki to public notice in the West was the animated feature Princess Mononoke released in 1997 although he had already enjoyed a great deal of success on previous films in Japan. The film features several elements through which Miyazaki conveys his anti-war message. It starts as Ashitaka attempts to defend his village from a demonic god in the form of a giant boar who injures Ashitaka and curses him with a festering wound that gives him great strength but will eventually kill him.

However, the main section of the film centers upon Ashitaka’s attempts to broker peace between Irontown and the forest spirits who have been warring against each other. This is most eloquently illustrated through his intervention between San, the female symbolic of the forest, and Eboshi, the female symbolic of Irontown, on the night San sneaks into the city. This is despite his own rage at a hearing of Eboshi’s unfair treatment of the forest gods and the degree to which she is responsible for the misfortunes that have occurred in his village after her attack on Nago caused his insanity.

This war between the city and the forest is strongly symbolic of the war that humanity is waging currently with the natural world. Irontown has drawn the anger of the forest spirits upon itself by its wanton destruction of the wilderness. Although the film starts with nature bringing the war to Ashitaka’s village, it becomes clear later that this war was started by Irontown when Eboshi shot Nago with an arrow and drove him mad. While the town is seen to win over nature as Eboshi succeeds in taking the Forest Spirit’s head, the forest is quickly seen to win over the town as the Forest Spirit’s body turns everything its ooze touches into death.

The only way for the town to survive is to return the Forest Spirit’s head and to agree to work in greater partnership with nature in the future. This element is also symbolized through the union of San, representing the forest, and Ashitaka representing the city as they agree to continue seeing each other but nothing is fully settled between them yet and neither is determined to be dominant.

Finally, Miyazaki’s recurring theme of the human’s capacity for change is discovered in all three of these main characters. Ashitaka sets off from his village with the sole intention of finding a cure for the curse that Nago put upon him but quickly becomes involved with the problems facing Irontown. Although he is aligned with the city, he finds himself pulled strongly to the forest in the figure of San and his greater understanding of what has occurred. San is highly distrustful of all humans and prefers to remain in the company of the wolf forest god Moro. Despite her mistrust and his interference in her attempt on Eboshi’s life, she begins to care for Ashitaka and agrees to work with him in the future. Eboshi, the character most placed within the role of villain in the film, is the character most able to change.

It was her arrow that drove Nago insane, causing him to attack Ashitaka’s village, but she is not entirely evil as she has provided lepers with jobs within her ammunitions plant and given prostitutes an option to work in the ironworks instead of in the brothels. This is what keeps Ashitaka from attacking her and causes him to interfere in San’s attempt. Miyazaki rewards this faith in the human capacity for change by allowing Eboshi to survive to the end, acknowledging the importance of nature by returning the Forest Spirit’s head and agreeing to seek a more harmonious balance in the new Irontown.

Animation Developments

Even as early as Nausicaa, Miyazaki was introducing innovations to the animation field. Although he tends to stick relatively closely to traditional methods of animation, he has always been willing to discover new means of achieving the effects he wishes to create. The movement of the giant Ohmu was not possible using traditional techniques, so Miyazaki animated them using numerous overlapping layers of cards to create the segments of their bodies (McCarthy, 1999).

While other animators were using color as a means of merely depicting the scene, Miyazaki understood how the use of color and design could be employed to develop the subtext of the stories. He decides atmospheric haze to depict the miasma that had people blinded to the life and light that existed within the forest. Even given the industry trend to move more and more into graphic animation through the use of computers, Miyazaki continued to employ these concepts in his later work, Princess Mononoke, with greater attention given to the actual working possibilities of the machines he concocts (Chute, 1998). It is this element of his artwork that tends to call attention to him as the machines he creates seem truly capable of taking flight.

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Hayao Miyazaki has proven through his several full-length animated films that important themes such as responsibility for nature and the human capacity for change can be conveyed in an entertaining way to the youth of the world.

His anti-war message emerges as an offshoot of the responsibility we have toward our environment as war necessarily becomes equated with the destruction of the environment, whether it is in the form of ironworks that must continuously cut down forests to function or a devastating firestorm that wastes the environment for eons to come, he makes it clear that war should be avoided at all costs. This is a message that is reinforced by his continuous portrayal of characters that can change. Villains are not always villains and they are not always villains all the way through.

Good guys are not always good guys but sometimes experience doubt, fear, and weakness. Throughout it all, adhering to a strong sense of responsibility for the surrounding environment seems to be the answer as to how to avoid some of the greater mistakes that people make that cause the problems.

People who care about the environment are interested in working things out to act in a way that preserves it whether it is by changing their attitude or avoiding warfare or some other means.


Chute, David. “Miyazaki Sensai.” Film Comment. (1998). Web.

Feldman, Steven. “Hayao Miyazaki Biography, Revision 2.” Nausicaa. (1994). Web.

McCarthy, Helen. Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation. Stone Bridge Press, 1999.

Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaa and the Four Winds. 1984.

Miyazaki, Hayao. Princess Mononoke. 1997.

Shimbun, Yomiuri. “Hayao Miyazaki’s Career Work Honored at Venice Festival.” (2005). Web.

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