As a young artist, Miyazaki was fascinated by the Zero Fighter Airplanes that his family helped build for the Japanese war effort. In order to pursue an art career, however, he had to attend art school and practice figure studies – a discipline many naturally talented artists intensely dislike.
My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988) is perhaps his most endearing film. The signature red airplane in Totoro has remained a recurrent theme in his movies. British literary influences – especially Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl are also apparent in his movies. As a forest spirit, Totoro has roots in Alice (Totoro’s Mei and her sister Satsuki) following the White Rabbit down the hole and Cheshire Cat of Carroll’s Wonderland. Miyazaki was even involved in an 1984 anime series, Sherlock Hound – another homage to British literature.
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-Hime, 1997). The highest grossing movie in Japan at $150 million until Titanic, also won Best Picture from the Japanese Academy film awards. It was distributed by Disney in the USA, thus marking the beginning of Miyazaki and Ghibli’s association.
Production costs of Princess Mononoke were under $20 million, making it the high-end Anime of its time. Technically, it was also Miyazaki’s first film to utilize computer generated images, a controversial anime battlefield. CGI was used in Mononoke for tracking motion, charting perspective, and color. These new methods were combined with the traditionally hand drawn artwork. Miyazaki, in his search for improved color techniques had become a participant in the Anime Wars — artists vs. computers.
Historically, traditional anime films are produced using thousands of hand drawn cels, production artwork used in animation. Cels are consequently photographed for each frame of the film.Hand-drawn anime requires both manpower (salaries) and skill. It is expensive to produce. CGI on the other hand, is less expensive to produce. Advances in software and digital cameras have blurred the differences of the end product made via CGI.
In fact in 2000, Disney anime artists in the USA were outspoken critics of CGI as several hundred animators lost their jobs. Disney closed both its Florida and Paris studios in a cost-saving measure. Traditional artist-inspired anime was being pushed aside and eliminated for the cheap seats of CGI. American anime artists now forced to deal with an industry dominated by CGI, however, have declared an uneasy truce and are now combining both methods.
Miyazaki with his latest release Gake no ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on a Cliff) in 2009, declared that Ghibli Studios would only use hand drawn animation for future production.
Perhaps Miyazaki’s most celebrated movie was Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, in 2001). The movie won both the American Academy Award and Japanese Academy Award and the feature has grossed about $300 million worldwide. Spirited Away was another tribute to Lewis Carroll as the story evokes the spirit of Alice in Wonderland peering through the small door and adventuring into the spirit world Miyazaki-style. The anime technique is a combination of traditional hand-drawn characters and CGI.
According to American anime expert and author, Charles Solomon, “Miyazaki’s attitude was summed up in a sign he had over the background department on Spirited Away: “Do everything by hand, even when using the computer.”
Hayao Miyazaki is definitely the God who rules the Anime Wars.
Heather Russell is a contributing writer for majirox news and CEO of Rinkya — www.rinkya.com