Here is an addition to Hayao Miyazaki's comics collection that I'm certain you've never seen before, and maybe only barely heard about. This is Tree, a book written by C. W, Nichols and published by Tokuma Shoten in 1989. Miyazaki provided a number of illustrations in black-and-white, and they are as richly detailed and visually complex as anything seen in his Nausicaa manga.
I'm quite impressed by the diversity and depth of the environmental themes Miyazaki presents in his illustrations. Riffs and homages to Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind abound, and this makes a great deal of sense when you consider that he was waist-deep in his epic manga. The sprawling pace of industrialization and urbanization is compared to the mold spores of the Daikaishou; civilization is once again depicted in almost apocalyptic terms, and it's quite clear on which side Miyazaki-san stands.
One panel shows Miyazaki's ever-present Heroine walking through a forest, and her imagination marvels at the majesty and mystery of the forest, the wonder of the trees, and dreams of dancing Totoros. A young urban boy, meanwhile, is a clueless, dimwitted fool, lost in his distractions and toys and symbols of media consumption. He tries to make the mental connection between the Kanji character for "tree," pronounced "ki," but he's completely lost. He'd rather watch anime videos and play his Walkman.
The mystical, mythical connection to nature is a Miyazaki trademark, as we all know so well. Perhaps this is a quality that owes more to Japan's rural past, and their lost Shinto beliefs of an animated world. As an American, I can just as easily point to the great poets of nature, men like John Muir and Walt Whitman. Heck, in Northern Minnesota, you practically spend your whole childhood outdoors, and you're never more than a few hundred yards away from untouched wilderness. I think this is my point of connection, and why I relate to Miyazaki-san's work.
Nearly all American animation is created in Southern California, and I do believe that has an influence on the style of the work seen in film and television. Pixar's movies don't really celebrate the wildness of nature, because that sort of world really doesn't exist there. Instead, it's a modern world of concrete, pavement, chrome and steel. It's the world of flashy cars and bright, suburban homes, tall skyscrapers. Whenever I see movies like The Incredibles or Cars or much of Dreamworks' output, I feel like I'm seeing the optimism of the Kennedy '60s. I feel like playing some Beach Boys records.
It's a different world for me. I'd much prefer the trees and the rivers and the grass. I'd prefer Miyazaki's animated forest, a world where everything is thrilling, exciting, alive. You are not separate from nature, no matter how many virtual realities you construct with your industrial civilizations. You are bound to the earth and its fate shall be yours. Sooner or later, humanity is going to learn this lesson, as this world is being poisoned and polluted to the brink of total collapse. When agriculture is being destroyed by runaway climate change, when food and water become scarcities, people will learn. Let's hope it won't be too late.
Enjoy Miyazaki's illustrations for Tree. Here is some terrific, inspiring artwork.