Figure 3. Cover art for Miyazaki's Nausicaa DVD set
Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_t68ar0SFX54/SrvMLVUJMyI/AAAAAAAADy4 / Ol1Z06z6YdE/s400/Nausicaa.jpg
The economic success of Nausicaa convinced its producers that the market for their type of work was viable, resulting in the explosion of the global manga and anime markets (Schilling, 1997). Launching Studio Ghibli as a framework in which to produce his theatrical follow-up to Nausicaa, Miyazaki's worked on Tenku no Shiro Laputa, another fantasy adventure story concerning a search for the lost flying island of Laputa. According to Schilling, "As in Nausicaa, a spunky princess was the heroine and the story contained a respect-nature-or-die subtext, but the action element was more central, the plotting less labyrinthine" (1997, p. 139). This release failed to achieve the financial success that Nausicaa enjoyed, though (Schilling, 1997). In 1988, Miyazaki wrote and directed a new movie, Tonarl no Totoro ("My Neighbor Totoro") in which he applied a different approach that proved more successful. Although "Totoro" did not match Nausicaa's box office earnings, the characters has assumed almost cult-like status among children and adults alike and remain favorites of the Japanese people today (Schilling, 1997). In 1991, Studio Ghibli released Miyazaki's Omoide Poroporo ("Only Yesterday") in 1991 and Totoro was released in a number of cities in the United States where it was received with mixed reviews (exemplified by Roger Ebert's thumbs up review vs. Gene Siskel's thumbs down review (Schilling, 1997). Despite these mixed reviews, the general consensus among critics and audiences around the world was that Miyazaki's work provided a new direction in animation that would have a lasting influence on the genre.
In all of the different films that were created by Miyazaki, there are a number of different historical influences that would have an effect on him. What happened was the end of World War II and the Cold War shaped how he viewed a host of different events. This created a sense of concern about how potential future conflicts could have an effect on the world as we know it. Miyazaki was meticulous about interpreting historical events properly and as accurately as possible within the scope of his work. For instance, while working for Nippon Animation during the 1970s, Miyazaki worked on a production of a rendition of "Tom Sawyer no Boken." According to Ishihara (2005), "The accurate representations were the result of painstaking research, including a trip to Hannibal and St. Louis. Such visits usually involved four to five people and lasted about ten days. The director and animators visited museums and towns related to the original story, making sketches and taking photos to aid them in their work" (p. 101).
Where, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind takes place in the aftermath of a major world war that has altered the ecosystem and created an environmental disaster. This has given rise to a toxic jungle that is full of giant insects. These themes are significant, because they are illustrative of how the tensions from World War II and the Cold War have influenced the director. In this regard he is taking an inward reflection of what could be the lasting impacts of how these kinds of conflicts affected the world as we know it ("Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind").
Described by Schilling (1997) as "the Japanese animator who finally beat Disney at the local box office," although Miyazaki appreciated the quality of their animation, he rejected Disney's portrayal of human emotions as being too stodgy and lacking credibility. Indeed, Miyazaki was keenly aware that historical references could lend authenticity and credibility to his works and took meticulous care to integrate these elements in innovative and compelling ways. This historical influence on his film-making career is attributed by Schilling (1997) to an ancient Chinese legend. "The film that made Miyazaki want to become an animator as a teenage boy in 1958," Schilling reports, "was Hakuja Den (The White Snake), a tragic love story based on an ancient Chinese legend that was the first animated feature by Toei, a studio founded in 1956 to challenge Disney's supremacy in the Japanese market" (p. 139).
Notwithstanding Miyazaki focus on all things Japanese, his interests extend to the history of other countries as well. This process is most evident in Miyazaki's 1989 Majo no Takkyubin ("Kiki's Delivery Service") set in a coastal town that combines Italian and Scandinavian port...
In fact, "Kiki" appears to have been inspired by illustrators such as Will Eisner's "The Spirit," given his predilection for rich detail and unusual perspectives as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Screenshot from "Kiki's Delivery Service"
Not surprisingly, the popularity of Miyazaki's works continues to increase among audiences of all ages and countries of origins. In fact, while Disney still enjoys a larger global audience, Schilling reports that, Miyazaki's Mimi o Sumaseba ("Whisper of the Heart") became "the highest-earning domestic film of 1995, with distributor revenues of 18.5 billion yen, it marked the fifth time in a row Studio Ghibli had gone head-to-head with a Disney film-this time Pocahantas -- and out-performed it at the box office" (Schilling, 1997, p. 139). Clearly, Miyazaki is doing something right and these issues are discussed further below with respect to the social influences that are evident in his work.
The social influences on Miyazaki can be seen in a number of different films that he has produced over the decades. We can find evidence in Spirited Away. According to Napier, "In Japan, animated film is appreciated across the generations as exemplified by the recent award-winning film Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi), which was the highest grossing film (including live action and foreign films) in Japanese history" (2005, p. 72). In this 2001 genre, he tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Chihiro Ogino. Where, in the process of moving to a new community, she becomes trapped in an alternative reality that is filled with monsters and villains.
During this time, she takes a job to help turn her parents into human beings once again (as they have been transformed into pigs). In this aspect, one could see the influences of corporate greed and the desire to move ahead at all costs in the adult world. This is the point that most people will lose touch with who they are, as they are focused on themselves and their money (which is denoted by the pig). Once this occurs, it means that they will lose their spirit and drive. This is significant, because it is illustrating the various social influences to move ahead at all costs within society. Many people are focused on their personal success, yet they are losing many of the things that help improve their quality of life. Chihiro Ogino is highlighting this criticism of society and their focus on success within their careers. Once this occurs, it is providing with the audience, with a greater understanding of different social pressures and the effects that they are having on families. ("Spirited Away")
A number of observers have identified parallels between "Spirited Away" with such Western stories as "Alice in Wonderland," "The Wizard of Oz," and even "Harry Potter." Although "Spirited Away" has been clearly influenced by Western literature, Miyazaki pointed out that it also contains numerous references to Japanese folklore, tradition, and symbolism as well (Reider, 2005). There are, in fact, some rather esoteric references to Japanese folklore and traditions in "Spirited Away" that clearly reflect these social influences. For instance, Reider reports that, "Indeed, the title itself, kamikakushi (hidden by kami/deities), alludes to Japanese folk belief. Some of the film's principal characters such as Yubaba (a descendent of yamauba or mountain witch) and Kamaji (a tsuchigumo or earth spider) are reminiscent of characters found throughout Japanese folklore, their residence within the bathhouse offering a reflection of Japan's vertical society" (2005, p. 5).
Although Miyazaki's work has been criticized on occasion for being too sophisticated for American children, the sometimes-subtle social elements that he weaves into his storylines help to make his work appealable to wider age ranges and tastes. For example, in response to an interview question that asked him why his movies departed from the traditional "good guy-bad guy" format, said, "The concept of portraying evil and then destroying it -- I know this is considered mainstream, but I think it's rotten,' he said, explaining why his films have no clear-cut villains. 'This idea that whenever something evil happens someone particular can be blamed and punished for it, in life and in politics, it's hopeless'" (quoted in Koppelman, 2008 at p. 106). Likewise, Napier (2005) reports that other Japanese social issues influenced Miyazaki's "Spirited Away." For instance, Napier reports that, "Chihiro's entrance into the genuinely fantastic bathhouse of the gods can be interpreted…
Hayao Miyazaki has been described as "the best animation filmmaker in history," (Ebert, 2002). His tenure includes the lifetime achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which Miyazaki can add to his Oscar for the acclaimed 2001-2002 film Spirited Away. Now in his seventies, Miyazaki has indicated a transition away from feature-length film projects toward lower-key ventures, even while his Tokyo-based company Studio Ghibli remains viable.