On January 5 this year it was Hayao Miyazaki’s 75th birthday. Happy birthday Miyazaki San! Before we go any further I suggest that you click on the below link and play the audio whilst reading. Trust me on this one.
For those of you asking “Who is this Miyazaki?” I can only say where have you been?! Miyazaki is the legendary film maker, and founder of anime film company Studio Ghibli, who wrote and directed many classic films such as the Academy award winning Spirited Away, Laputa: Castle in the Sky (where the above audio is from), the hauntingly beautiful Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds, the film adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle, the exquisite Princess Mononoke, and the ever popular family favourite (and my personal favourite) My Neighbour Totoro. But what has this to do with parenting I hear you ask. I can think of nothing better to get your kids to watch when introducing films to them for the first time. Here’s why:
1. The art work. From the underwater sequences in Ponyo, to the meticulous detail of the walking house in Howl’s Moving Castle, Miyazaki has an eye for beauty and the ability to create a sprawling world full of wonderful landscapes that put even the best of artists to shame, and makes Disney look like some two bit colouring in book company. Studio Ghibli produces films that not only make you believe that these magical places exist, but you’d actually give up your right arm to go visit there. If you want your child to start appreciating the world of art, then trust me when I say Miyazaki is going to open up an entire world for them.
In Disney’s The Little Mermaid, they went on and on about drawing in those individual bubbles. Yeah, you keep trying guys.
2. The storylines. Your average Miyazaki film will never be over complicated or bogged down with Inception style writing. The stories are simple and easy for children to follow. That’s not to say that they are shallow or dumb. On the contrary. I’ve never really experienced a film with stories as rich, and full of beauty and emotion as Miyazaki’s movies. My Neighbour Totoro for example follows the lives of two young sisters. The story revolves around their move to a new city, and what it’s like being sisters on a day to day basis, all the while coping with their mother being sick in hospital. You never know what illness the mother suffers from. Nor do you need to know, because that’s not what the story is about. The love the sisters share for each other and their parents, thrown together with the introduction of the mythical Totoro and his forest spirits makes for a magical and wonderful film that can be enjoyed by all (and yes, there will be tears at the end. But tears of joy, I assure you).
And yes, for Stormy’s first Christmas, I did buy him a plush Totoro doll that was the same size as him.
3. They’re a gateway to literature. Quite a number of Miyazaki’s films, and Studio Ghibli films, are adaptations from novels or traditional stories. Howl’s Moving Castle and Tales of Earthsea are both rather famous fantasy novels. Ponyo is a unique and adorable adaptation of The Little Mermaid. Nausicaa is based off a very successful manga series. And Ghibli’s latest production Princess Kaguya is taken from The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a 10th century Japanese folk tale. What better way to introduce an interest in writing and literature to children than by coupling them with incredibly well created films. And I would have to say that out of every book to film adaptation I have ever seen, Howl’s Moving Castle is still the only film that I infinitely prefer to the book. That’s how create a story teller Miyazaki is.
4. Strong female characters galore. I see a trend appearing on the Internet in recent times, and that’s feminists decrying Hollywood for their lack of strong female characters in films. Or even female characters in general. Well look no further than Miyazaki’s films. Out of the 13 films I have on my shelf, 8 of those films the main protagonist is female, and 2 further films the female protagonist shares the same amount of screen time and importance as the male protagonist. And these female characters are nothing like your Trinity Syndrome Hollywoodesque female characters (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then I suggest reading this article: https://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/618-were-losing-all-our-strong-female-characters-to-tr/). They are solid, rich, three dimensional, independent, emotionally varied, and nothing at all alike to each other. They are generous, passionate kind leaders of their people like the character Nausicaa from Valley of the Winds. They are healers (and a positive portrayal of witches) like Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service. They are sisters who love each other for who they are like Mei and Satsuki from My Neighbour Totoro (Frozen eat your heart out). They are San from Princess Mononoke, a warrior princess, who let’s just say you won’t find on any Diseny mug or colouring book any time soon. Of Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki himself stated this in relation to the very Unhollywood lack of romance in the film between the two main characters: “I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live – if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.” How awesome is that! So if you want your children to be watching films that have more positive female role models in them I can’t recommend Miyazaki enough.
5. Think cartoons are just for kids? Dread the school holidays when you know you’ll be dragged against your will to the cinema to watch train wrecks such as Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, or that recent really low budget computer animated version of Blinky Bill (shudder)? Trust me when I say that Miyazaki films are for you. No, there’s no double entendres snuck in for your amusement like in Shrek. These films are made specifically to be loved by everyone of all ages. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll marvel at the wonder of it all. Death is spoken about sometimes, but it gently guides you along these issues. Not explode them in your face and feels they way Disney does with let’s say, the Lion King or the Good Dinosaur (whoops, sorry, spoiler alert. Though do you really care?). These films are there for you to watch alone, or to share the experience with your children. For the little ones, I recommend My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo, Arrietty, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Laputa. For the older ones I recommend Nausicaa, Tales of Earthsea, Howl’s Moving Castle, Spirited Away, and Pocco Rosso. For the teenagers to adults I recommend Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises and From Up on Poppy Hill.
Watching a Ghibli film together as a family will make you as happy as these guys…actually don’t watch this one. This one is just weird.
If I haven’t said it enough already, and if you haven’t experienced it already, you NEED to get Miyazaki into your life now. I give you my word he will change it, and give you joy forever. I for one cannot wait until Stormageddon is old enough to watch these films with me, and appreciate them as much as I do.