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kottke.org posts about Hayao Miyazaki

Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2018

After he retired from making feature length films in 2013, legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki started work on a short film using CGI animation techniques, which he had never worked with before. For two years, a film crew followed him and his progress, resulting in a feature-length documentary, Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki. You can watch the trailer above.

I’m a weak used-up old man. It’d be a ridiculous mistake to think I’ll ever regain my youth. But what do I do with the time I have left?

The documentary was shown on Japanese TV in 2016 but will make its American debut in December, showing on December 13 and 18.

Possible spoiler alert for the documentary: Miyazaki unretired last year and is turning that short film into a full-length feature.

Revisiting the Cursed Dreams of Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2018

For the most recent issue of the kottke.org weekly newsletter, Tim wrote about watching almost all of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki’s films, from Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind to The Wind Rises.

The unsurprising verdict: these movies are amazing works of art, each and every one. I was especially charmed by two movies I’ve always mentally skimmed over: Laputa — Castle in the Sky and Whisper of the Heart. They’re insanely different movies. Laputa is maybe as close as Miyazaki gets to a good guy vs. bad guy epic (although even the pirates who start the film as antagonists end up being comrades by the end of it), and Whisper of the Heart, despite a couple of fantasy sequences, is even closer to straight realism than Miyazaki’s last film, The Wind Rises.

Also probably unsurprising: for allaying anxiety, the movies are a mixed bag, to say the least. There’s an escapism factor to each of them, or rather, an absorption factor, that’s extremely welcome. But they’re also emotionally complex fables about self-destruction, the need for love, and the brutality of the future.

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A close reading of Miyazaki’s sound design in The Wind Rises

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 12, 2018

I recently rewatched a bunch of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, although “watched” is a bit of a misnomer. I was playing them in the background while I was working, or reading, or trying to sleep, so really I was re-listening to them, and not especially closely.

This almost feels like a sin for movies as beautiful as these, but it did help me notice something. Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind looks different from Princess Mononoke or The Wind Rises, sure; however, it sounds way different. The music, the foley effects, the subtler cues, the sheer sound density are completely different from one end of the career to another.

This made me wonder whether somebody had charted this transformation. I didn’t quite find that, but I did find an outstanding series of blog posts specifically on the sound design in The Wind Rises, which stands in nicely. It’s not well copyedited, but it’s attentive and insightful. A few samples:

Jiro enters his airplane, adjusts his aviator gloves and starts the artisanal machine. By now we have noticed the sound effects of the valves and exhaust pipes made of human mouth sounds and with vocalisations. The first engine starts and it’s clear that human voice is used to portray this activity. But once the propeller activates a low rumble sound effects is introduced, and a sound effect of a servo ascending is applied to the airplane rising, triggered by Jiro’s pulling the lever, and it’s in harmony with the music score. One occurrence with the sound that emphasises the oneiric dimension of this scene is the ‘dreamy’ quality of the reverb applied on the last blow of the machine lifting before it goes crossing the skies [00:02:03].

Here’s a clip a little later in the sequence — I’d never recognized that the dream engine sounds were being made by human mouths, but once you hear it, it’s perfect.

Or consider the earthquake, detail by detail:

It is now that we are in the presence of the horror lived in this earthquake and sound plays such a big role with all its brutality. Different to the traditional approach of western film, the main elements heard are a composition of :

  • horrified human screams on a higher-pitch range,
  • medium-low pitch throat growls and groans like coming from a big beast,
  • that moves upwards in pitch as the image from the houses undulates from a farther plane to a closer one.
  • an earthy impact stinger

These elements are introduced a couple of frames before we see the houses being ripped apart.

In the next scene the audience is shown, through close-ups, how the ground is animated in brutal waves breaking and disrupting the order of all man-made constructions. We no longer hear the horrifying screams and the sound designer paints the scene with sound of the ground disrupting, by utilising rumbles and earth debris. The sounds here are in the same universe as those indicated on Jiro’s first dream - choir-like sounds mimicking up and down movements, in which the upwards vocalisations are like rising stingers.

It really helped me appreciate these movies again, as sonic masterpieces.

The hidden heart of Howl’s Moving Castle

posted by Tim Carmody   Oct 26, 2017

howl - falling star.jpg

1.

Hayao Miyazaki is our Ovid, a fluent, majestic storyteller with a gift for deep connections and sudden transformations. At the end of his career, he’s rightfully acquired a reputation as a curmudgeon, a traditionalist with a dim view of human nature and our technological prostheses. I worry that this obscures the other Miyazaki, the environmentalist pacifist, a perfectionist who nevertheless sought and found miracles in everyday life. In the 1990s and early 2000s, this was the only Miyazaki we knew. We saw him much more dimly then, but I do not know if we see him better now.

My favorite Miyazaki film is 2004’s Howl’s Moving Castle. I would not say it is his best, his most beautiful, or his most perfectly realized. Princess Mononoke is more epic, more careful in its throughlines and narrative choices. The Wind Rises is more personal, more human and moving. Spirited Away is a masterpiece of story, art, and character, every scene and frame indelible. Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind and My Neighbor Totoro will last forever in a way that Howl’s Moving Castle may not.

None of this matters: Howl’s Moving Castle is my Miyazaki film; you may choose your own.

howl - whole cast.jpg

2.

A number of Miyazaki’s films deal with fractured and unlikely families. It is probably fair to say the residents of Howl’s castle are the unlikeliest.

At the same time, despite their differences in appearance and circumstance, the characters are all so much like each other. It is as if each one stands in for different sides of all the others, like the brothers of The Brothers Karamazov.

Howl, Sophie, Calcifer, Markl, the Witch of the Waste, and Turnip-Head are all, in one way or another, shapeshifters. Some of them by choice, others by curse; the choices become curses, the curses choices. They are all orphans. Before we meet any of them, we learn that they have committed themselves to something that they did not fully understand, which they would undo if they could, but which they are powerless to speak about or tackle on their own. They are all fearless and cowardly, timid and reckless. They understand each other in ways outsiders never could.

In most Miyazaki movies, he resists turning the narrative into a love story. In Howl’s Moving Castle, he resists his own resistance. All of the characters are in love with each other. Instead, they have to learn how to accept love. There are lessons in this.

3.

Here I have to confess that I have never read the Diana Wynne Jones novel on which the movie is based, or any of the others in the World of Howl series.

I have a friend who is an enormous fan of Morrissey and The Smiths, who collects anything and everything associated with the singer, but has refused multiple opportunities to meet him in person. “My relationship with him now, exactly as it is, is perfect,” she says. “It could only change for the worse.” This is how I feel about reading Howl’s Moving Castle.

4.

The story’s plot is about as coherent as the castle itself. It’s a dozen stories bolted together, creaking and wheezing, pieces falling off, until it collapses altogether. Like other Miyazaki films, we’re thrown into a world we don’t understand, and gradually the universe’s rules are revealed.

But the rules somehow never really pay off. Sophie’s curse is never really broken, by Calcifer, the Witch of the Waste, or anyone else. It just unwinds itself. The climactic moment, where Sophie travels into the past to see the first meeting of Howl and Calcifer, offers no attempt at explanation. (Like Dante into the Inferno, Sophie just trudges into a hole in the ground, a mute dog as her silent Virgil.) All the plot lines end simultaneously not really due to any underlying logic but because the movie simply runs out of time.

None of this matters. Like Turnip-Head, I will throw myself in front of this film’s catastrophic collapse to protect its characters, not because I am strong, but because it is my turn.

5.

I asked my friend Margarita Noriega, a digital strategist, social media genius, and Miyazaki fan, to tell me what she finds compelling in Howl:

Howl’s castle, like many of Miyazaki’s objects-come-alive, is powered by a terrific, dazzling magic that contradicts itself. It has an opalite quality, akin to a clear opaqueness. To his enemies, the magic all around Howl is a sinisiter curse in need of purging by the righteous. To his friends, it can heal a broken heart or give flight to the grounded.

What kind of thing can make one person see evil and good? In Howl’s world, like ours, perspective is everything. The indescribable beauty of living and loving is a contradiction to the realities of aging, death, and war. It is magic because it is a power which defies a dark reality.

The most relatable thing about Howl, Sophie, and the other residents of the castle is how they experience emotions so big and so complex that they don’t fully understand them. They don’t understand each other’s motives. They don’t understand their own. But somehow they learn to trust and care for each other anyways. And that care — not power, knowledge, or any other transaction — manages to save them.

Howl flying bow.gif

Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite children’s books

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2017

Totoro Little Prince

Back in 2010, legendary Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki picked his 50 favorite books for children and young adults. Here are the top five:

1. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
3. Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren
4. When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson
5. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

It’s easy to see the influence of the books from the list on the movies he made. Indeed, two of the top five books were actually made into Studio Ghibli films (The Borrowers and When Marnie Was There).

P.S. The Totoro / Little Prince illustration is from Pinterest, but I couldn’t find the original source. Anyone?

A brief visual history of Studio Ghibli

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2017

Studio Ghibli has been making incredible animated movies since 1985. This video traces the history and the work of the studio and its principal director Hayao Miyazaki from his pre-Ghibli work (including Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind) all the way up to Miyazaki’s recent unretirement & involvement in Boro the Caterpillar.

The name Ghibli was given by Hayao Miyazaki from the Italian noun “ghibli”, based on the Libyan-Arabic name for the hot desert wind of that country, the idea being the studio would “blow a new wind through the anime industry”. It also refers to an Italian aircraft, the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli.

I still remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theater in 1999 (having no previous knowledge of Ghibli or Miyazaki) and being completely blown away by it. Made me a fan for life. (via film school rejects)

Update: The Movies of Studio Ghibli, Ranked from Worst to Best. Happy to see Princess Mononoke in the top spot and surprised at Spirited Away’s relatively low placement.

Hayao Miyazaki is coming out of retirement

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2017

The Japan Times is reporting that legendary director Hayao Miyazaki has un-retired and is currently working on a new feature-length animated film for Studio Ghibli!

The decision comes nearly 3 1/2 years after Miyazaki, 76, announced his retirement amid persistent calls for him to make a comeback from his fans both in and outside Japan.

“He is creating it in Tokyo, working hard right now,” Toshio Suzuki, a producer at the major Japanese animation company, said Thursday on a talk show, adding he was presented by the animation maestro with the storyboard of the new film at the end of last year.

“(The storyboard) was quite exciting,” 68-year-old Suzuki said, adding, “but if I’d told him it was good, I know it would ruin my own retirement,” as making the film would dominate his life, Suzuki told the audience.

(via @garymross)

Update: Miyazaki is working on a film called Boro the Caterpillar (Kemushi no Boro), which was originally going to be a short film before the director decided it would work better at a feature length. Here are some clips and sketches from the film, which won’t be out for another couple of years.

What makes a Miyazaki film a Miyazaki film?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2015

Lewis Bond takes a look at the work of master filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and what sets him apart from other makers of animated movies, including his work’s realism and empathy.

The possibilities of Hayao Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2015

From Mike Hale in the NY Times, a short appreciation of Hayao Miyazaki, among the best filmmakers of his generation.

Even at its high end, in the works of the Pixar studio or the director Henry Selick, the American children’s movie (a category that these days is pretty much congruent with the animated feature film) approaches its young viewers in a different and less rewarding way. There is always a sense of the filmmakers looking across a divide at their audience, trying with various degrees of grace or desperation to create an entertainment for them, to figure out what will keep those allegedly hyperdistracted children from losing interest.

Mr. Miyazaki cares deeply about that young audience, but you get the feeling that he doesn’t waste any time trying to guess what it wants. Like other great directors of films for and about children — Carroll Ballard (“The Black Stallion”) Steven Spielberg (“E.T.”), Alfonso Cuaron (“A Little Princess” and “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) — he inhabits the child’s point of view and directly communicates her joys, her trepidations and, perhaps most important, her endless curiosity.

Princess Mononoke on Blu-ray

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2014

Princess Mononoke

When I first saw it during the magical movie year of 1999, Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke completely blew me away. Now that it’s (finally!) out on Blu-ray1, I can’t wait to see it again. Bonus: the ability to watch in the original Japanese with English subtitles.

  1. Who out there is still buying Blu-ray? I buy one occasionally but only when I really really care about the picture quality. Otherwise, streaming off of Amazon, iTunes, or Netflix is fine.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2014

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is a documentary which presents a year in the life of Studio Ghibli and its famed director, Hayao Miyazaki. The year in question was a particularly interesting one during which Miyazaki announced his retirement. The trailer:

Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, director Mami Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli — the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, the producer Toshio Suzuki, and the elusive and influential “other director” Isao Takahata — over the course of a year as the studio rushes to complete two films, Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises and Takahata’s The Tale of The Princess Kaguya. The result is a rare “fly on the wall” glimpse of the inner workings of one of the world’s most celebrated animation studios, and an insight into the dreams, passion and singular dedication of these remarkable creators.

(via @garymross)

Update: The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is now available for rent/buy on Amazon and iTunes.

Pixel Miyazaki

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2014

A short and sweet pixel art tribute to legendary animator and director Hayao Miyazaki.

See also 8-bit Ghibli.

Hayao Miyazaki is retiring

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2013

Animator Hayao Miyazaki is retiring from making feature length films. At a press conference in Tokyo, he discussed why.

The director spoke about how his eye sight was getting worse, making it hard for him to create his animation. He also said how each year, he is leaving his desk earlier and earlier.

A reporter noted that Miyazaki’s official retirement statement stated that he was retiring from making feature films. “As long as I can drive,” Miyazaki replied, “I will be going to the studio every day. But if there’s thing I want to do, then I will.”

This year’s The Wind Rises will be his last feature film. My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Ponyo, and many more…that’s quite a body of work.