What Mr. Miyazaki Was True To

There was something different about Hayao Miyazaki’s movies.

He made 11 in total. Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke and Ponyo. They are for children. All animated. And all began not on computers, but in human hands.

Because Mr. Miyazaki, who is now retired, was a man of ink and paper. And in his workshop outside of Tokyo, he drew – usually while wearing a printer’s apron and black-rimmed glasses – thousands and thousands of frames during his 11am to 9pm daily working hours.

These frames are filled with emotion and feeling: astonishment and joy, empathy and wonder. Mr. Miyazaki realized when he was 17 that he wanted to make “something life affirming,” as he once wrote. And his movies are evidence of a curious, imaginative mind at work.

Which brings us to that something different about his movies.

Most children’s movies catapult forward with relentless action: Car chases to collapsing buildings to food fights to fist fights. But Mr. Miyazaki’s films are not true to form.

They have these quiet in-between moments: a character pauses. Or looks into the distance. Or sighs.

“It’s called ma,” Mr. Miyazaki told Roger Ebert in 2002. It’s non-busyness. Silence. To explain, the filmmaker clapped his hands a few times. “The time in between my clapping,” he said, “is ma.”

And Mr. Miyazaki put it intentionally into his movies. Because he and his animation film studio believed in something different than the standard form of children’s movies.

“If you stay true to joy and astonishment and empathy,” he said to Mr. Ebert, “you don’t have to have violence and you don’t have to have action…This is our principle.”

So, with his human hands, Mr. Miyazaki shattered the form. And stayed true to his life affirming work.

The Lightning Notes is funded solely by kind donors. If something here strikes you, I’d be grateful if you’d consider donating. Click to Donate!