Have you ever seen any of Studio Ghibli’s animated movies? In particular, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated movies through Studio Ghibli? I know that many of you probably have, but if you haven’t, this blogpost is for you (and for fans of these movies!). They are drawn in the anime style and are fantastic. My family has a stack of them sitting in our DVD bookcase. What makes the movies so superb is their depth, their artwork, and their focus on the human condition. Below, I go into detail about two specific movies of Miyazaki’s that portrays the characters, their relationships, and good and evil through the lens of the human condition.
In Disney movies, there is a strong distinction between the heroes and the villains, especially the earlier animated ones. I would go so far as to say many of the villains in Disney movies are two-dimensional, fail to show remorse most of the time, and lack the full makeup of human beings–good and bad qualities. But with such movies as Spirited Away, the human condition and the more rounded personalities of the characters are present and great to watch.
This movie is long, engrossing, and deep. So deep that you forget you’re watching an animated feature (this is the case for all Miyazaki’s films). Chihiro, a young, 10-year-old girl is riding with her parents in their car heading for their new house in a new city. She possesses a bratty mentality who is not happy about moving, which is typical for children who like to stay where they grew up, for the most part (says the daughter of an Air Force officer who moved every two to four years. Haha). Anyway, her parents and she end up going through a type of stone tunnel that opens up to green hills and a little village with a bunch of shops. Her parents get caught up in the smell and devouring of delicious food, and their gluttony takes over, transforming them into huge pigs. Chihiro is left alone, desperate to help her parents. Later, she becomes an employee at a bathhouse run by a nasty witch who steals people’s names. Still, aspects of good show through this witch, which makes her more “human” and interesting.
A teenaged boy, Haku, aids Chihiro using his special powers, as he’s also a white dragon. And then there’s No Face. This character doesn’t speak, and appears and disappears in and around the bathhouse where Chihiro works. He followers Chihiro and tries to give her handfuls of gold, but she isn’t interested. All those that do take the gold blocks are eaten by No Face. He becomes gluttonous, and can’t stop eating. He’s miserable, and he sees Chihiro as the person to save him from this. Instead of kicking him to the curb for his destructive behavior, she eventually helps him, and his passion is squelched. Also, the witch softens towards the end of the story.
Through helping others, learning to be independent and resourceful, Chihiro matures and loses the brattiness and ungratefulness that had been part of her at the beginning of the story. There’s the element of redemption in this that I love–that people aren’t all bad or good, and that they repent and change. All of these elements in this Japanese movie show Christian aspects but are globally understood because it’s part of humanity and its ability to transform through the love of others that shines the light of Christ, from my perspective. If you haven’t seen this epic film, I highly recommend it. Although it’s a “children’s movie,” (I wouldn’t say very young children), it’s for adults, too.
Howl’s Moving Castle
This movie is enchanting. It, too, is long and engrossing. Again, you forget this is animated. Main character, Sophie, is a young woman who works with her sisters in her since deceased father’s hat shop until she encounters Howl, the Wizard, and then The Witch of the Waste. The latter casts a spell on Sophie, turning her into an old woman. Sophie did not consider herself beautiful, and so, although she isn’t happy she’s been turned wrinkly, it’s the struggle with her aching body that causes her the most difficulty. She finds herself inHowl’s magic, moving castle and works for him as a cleaning lady. Throughout this is a war going on in the country where she and the others live.
Howl suffers from vanity. He is particular about his hair color, his clothes, and how he looks. If something comes between him and his appearance, he crumbles, and this happens in one of the scenes. Black forms of demons slither out and around him while he’s melting in the chair. Why? Because he’s allowed his vanity to overtake him, causing him the danger of being destroyed. But Sophie is there to talk to him and help him.
Ultimately, Sophie’s compassion toward Howl, the Witch, and other characters brings about remorse and repentance for those characters that were doing evil. Sophie does not have a high regard for herself and believes herself to be unattractive. But she grows through dealing with the curse of being old. I don’t believe she cared that she was old because she didn’t think she was beautiful anyway, so she didn’t lose anything in appearance. But she learns through helping others, and these people’s respect for her, that she is truly worth something and she learns to like herself. In return, Howl tells her she’s beautiful and helps her get back home. If you haven’t seen this one, please do.
Whenever watching these movies, everything around you melts away, and you’re sucked into the storyline, the characters, and the beautiful artistic scenes.
There are plenty of other spectacular Hiyazaki movies that are just as deep, and some a little lighter in content. Below is a list of the DVDs we own that are all fantastic and enjoyable.
Princess Mononoke (my oldest son’s favorite, and very profound)
Kiki’s Delivery Service
My Neighbor Totoro
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (profound)
From Up On Poppy Hill (my favorite lighter film)
Castle in the Sky
Whisper of the Heart
The Secret World of Arrietty
Incidentally, if you’re in to real tear-jerkers, watch this Studio Ghibli movie called Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a twenty-tissue film, and one I doubt I’ll be able to watch again, but it was incredible.
Take a look at this video that explains Miyazaki’s theme of the human condition in his works.