Miyazaki's Rage and Rebellion

The Independent UK has an excellent profile on Hayao Miyazaki, in anticipation of his latest film, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. The article asks about the film director's work ethic, his views on moden movies ("I can't stand modern movies"), and what he hoped to communicate with his films. It's a fantastic read, doubly so because interviews in the English-speaking press are so very rare.

A couple snippets from the interview:

Miyazaki's 10th movie, the story of a young goldfish that longs to become human, is another chapter in his lifelong struggle to interpret the world of children, explains the director, who says Ghibli has recently built a crèche for its staff where he spends a lot of his time. "I look at them and try to see things as they do. If I can do that, I can create universal appeal." The relationship is two-way, he says. "We get strength and encouragement from watching children. I consider it a blessing to be able to do that, and to make movies in this chaotic, testing world."

Humans face a basic choice between love or money, he believes. "A five-year-old understands that in a way an adult obsessed with the economy and share prices cannot. I make movies that can be understood by that five-year-old, and to bring out that purity of heart."

When I was writing about the My Neighbor Totoro poster in my previous post, I described the movie as Miyazaki's Pastorale. But I don't mean to imply that he is a kindly, nostalgic storyteller. Totoro was really an anamoly in the long sphere of his work, and this is a realization that Westerners have such a difficult time accepting. This is not another Walt Disney, spinning happy fairy tales to keep the children happy. Miyazaki is not nostalgic. He is apocalyptic. His view of the modern world, its materialism, its values, its self-destructiveness - this is almost one of dispair. The images of chaotic destruction, of cities burning and crumbling, sit somewhere between prophecy and wish fullfillment.

You know the old joke about how the only ones to survive a nuclear war are Cher and cockroaches? Miyazaki is rooting for the cockroaches.

I think Miyazaki relates to children and sees them as equals. It's not just the wide-eyed optimism and love for the natural world, or a sense of mystery. It's also an open honesty. Children have not learned how to lie to themselves the way adults do. Children and teenagers still have that inner bullshit detector, firing away at maximum.

David McNeill has a phrase at the end of his Independent article: rage and rebellion against the world. That's really what Miyazaki is all about. That's exactly where I identify with him and his work. Many Westerners look at him and identify with Totoros and the Cat Bus. I identify with moody redheads and apocalyptic Ohmu stampedes.

It is hard to resist the image of a very Miyazaki-ian wilful child, struggling to remain unspoiled as the grubby workings of the real world begin to encroach. It's a theme explored in the story of the boy Sosuke, left, and Ponyo, the girl- fish whose rage and rebellion against the world result in a devastating storm. "Ponyo's rebellion is dangerous, but that's part of life," explains the director. "Humans have both the urge to create and destroy."


asuka said...

thanks for the link to the interview. i have to say that though i love many of his films i think miyazaki says some pretty silly and off-putting things in many interviews. i'm thinking more than anything of his sense almost of guilt over contributing to mass culture. in that context, i think the a very interesting reflexive comment on the directors work comes in ponyo where the mother makes reference to the song from "totoro", acknowledging that she and sousuke know the film well.
it's not quite up there with the miyazaki posters on the walls in GAINAX's "otaku no bideo" and "toppu wo nerae" as a loving embrace of otaku culture, but still. it's an acknowledgment that miyazaki's child characters have been formed by mass culture. a small step forward!

Malik Ming said...

It takes a village to raise a children, and, most often unfortunately, that village is mass culture. If a Miyazaki film can squeeze its way through and truly engross a child, I'd say that a small step as well.

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