Hayao Miyazaki (1941- ) is an internationally noted film director, producer, writer, illustrator, animator, and manga artist considered to be at the forefront of animated storytelling and is a co-founder of Studio Ghibli.  Miyazaki was born on January 5, 1941 in Tokyo Japan, the second of four sons, to Katsuji Miyazaki (1915-1993), the director of Miyazaki Airplanes. He graduated from Gakushuin University (1963) with a degree in economics and political science, and married animator Akemi Ota (1968), with whom he has two children, Goro and Keisuke Miyazaki. His most impressionable childhood memories include his father’s work, the bombing of Japan, and his mother’s long illness with spinal tuberculosis. Miyazaki has also commented on the influence post-war manga boy’s magazines and illustrated stories as well as the animated movie Hkujaden or the Legend of the White Serpent (1958) have upon his work.

Miyazaki began animating in 1963 and met Isao Takahata while working for Toei Animation.  Here he started to develop his storytelling ideas and skills as an illustrator, aiding in the production of Watchdog Bow Wow, Wolf Boy Ken, and Gulliver’s Travels Beyond the Moon (1965).  In 1968 Miyazaki became chief animator on Hols: Prince of the Sun and collaborated with Yasuo Otsuka and Takahata.  The following year he wrote, designed, and animated aspects of Puss In Boots and by 1971 aided in the development of Hiroshi Ikeda’s Animal Treasure Island and Hiroshi Shidara’s Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

In late 1971 Miyazaki left Toei, moving to A-Pro Studios to direct Lupin III and animate Panda! Go, Panda!.  By 1973 Miyazaki and Takahata had moved to Zuiyo Pictures, working on Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974) and Future Boy Conan (1978).  In 1979 Miyazaki directed The Castle of Cagliostro, whose success garnered wide attention, leading him to direct the anime series Sherlock Hound (1984).  In the early 1980s Miyazaki adapted his most popular manga story into the film Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), moving away from the futuristic and computerized look of most anime towards portrayals of the natural world typical of many of his subsequent movies.  The success of Nausicaa lead Miyazaki, along with Takahata, to found Studio Ghibli (1985) which gave them the freedom to pursue their own projects.

In 1986 Ghibli began releasing films including Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Only Yesterday (1991), Porco Rosso (1992), Pom Poko (1994), and Whisper of the Heart (1995).  The success of the movie Princess Mononoke, which set records for ticket sales and earned the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture, garnered Disney Studio’s attention. In 1996 Disney began collaborating with Miyazaki, bringing many of his films to western audiences. In the late 1990s Miyazaki, owing to his failing eyesight, entered a period of semi retirement, arguing that to continue would lower the standard of the work he produced.  However, by 2001 Miyazaki returned, releasing Spirited Away, a film which won international recognition for Japanese cinema, receiving the Japanese Academy Award, a Golden Bear, and the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. Miyazaki refused to receive his Academy Award in America, citing that he would not visit a nation that was bombing another country.  In 2004 Miyazaki again left semiretirement to complete Howl’s Moving Castle, which also garnered widespread praise and subsequently lead him to receive the lifetime achievement award at the Venice Film Festival (2005).  Two years later Miyazaki’s son, Goro released his first film, Tales from Earthsea (2006) which ultimately led to disagreements between the two.  In 2008, after much speculation, Miyazaki released Ponyo and soon after returned to screenwriting, aiding in drafting The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) and From Up on Poppy Hill (2011).  Miyazaki’s most recent work is The Wind Rises (2013), which was followed by a reassertion of his desire to retire from the film industry.

Since opening, Ghibli has produced some of the most successful films in Japan and Miyazaki is considered to be one of the most renowned film makers of the twentieth century. As an animator he uses a limited amount of computer animation, emphasizes realistic movements in his characters, and believes that hand drawing is essential.  Miyazaki typically avoids many of the conventions of anime, mecha, and science fiction films and instead explores the spiritual, magical, human and natural aspects of the world, often highlighting the destructive aspects of technology. His films frequently include thematic explorations of humanity, nature, the environment, mythology, history, flight, and feminism. In addition, his stories strive to teach a moral lesson and often critique conflict, capitalism, progress, technology and industrialism as well as their impact upon society and the individual.  Miyazaki’s anime frequently utilizes allegory and symbolism as well as European urban settings, flying machines, and fantasy elements, and it incorporates deliberate pauses in the story to focus on nature.  In contrast to most traditional Japanese stories and anime, Miyazaki’s protagonists are often strong young women who relate to nature, are close friends with a boy, are confronted with morally ambiguous situations, and who must reaffirm their own independence and identity.

Throughout his career Miyazaki also continued his work as a manga storyteller and artist, often writing under the pseudonym Akitsu Saburo.  His notable manga work includes titles such as People of the Desert (1969-1970), Animal Treasure Island (1971), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1981-1994), The Journey of Shuna (1983), Hikotei Jida (1989), and Kaze Tachinu (2009).  For his contributions to the industry Miyazaki has been noted by Peter Lord and animators at Aardman Studios, John Lasseter of Pixar Studios, and Glen Keane at Disney to be one of the most influential film makers of the period. He has also been cited by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy, to have a significant influence on the look and feel of his computer games.

  –Sean Morton

Further Reading

  • Cavallaro, Dani. The Animé Art of Hayao Miyazaki, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006.
  • McCarthy, Helen. Hayao Miyazaki: Master of Japanese Animation. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 1999.