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This Year, I’m Thankful for . . . Finding Oneself in the Films of Hayao Miyazaki

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we often find ourselves becoming more introspective, reflecting on the people and things for which we are thankful.  As we at Fanbase Press celebrate fandoms, this year, the Fanbase Press staff and contributors have chosen to honor their favorite fandoms, characters, or other elements of geekdom for which they are thankful, and how those areas of geekiness have shaped their lives and values.

As a writer and lover of films, it’s easy to look around and give credence to so many things over the years that have influenced me. When I stop for a moment to consider my journey to maturity, it is hard to say that anime didn’t play a big part in that. In fact, I can chart my move from adolescence to adulthood by charting which anime I watched and when. Fist of the North Star was around the time when all I cared about was watching heads explode — my early teens. Admittedly, I sought out anime for other reasons. The same reasons why teenagers keep Playboys under their mattresses. The overt trashy spectacle, violence, and lack of insight or thought into real human emotions excited me, especially growing up in a conservative household. It was different. It was obscene and naughty.

The next step was discovering Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and The Castle of Cagliostro. With these three films, there was a grace, an elegance, a maturity that blew my mind. The mind-boggling visionary work of Akira and Ghost in the Shell opened up my mind to more esoteric experiences in ways that Blade Runner had prepared me for a few years earlier, only to a much more heightened and surreal degree. Despite those cathartic experiences, Cagliostro was different. It didn’t occur to me who Hayao Miyazaki was when I first watched Cagliostro; it was my first time experiencing him. It was different than the other two – confident in a way they weren’t. There was a patience about it, an understanding that no matter how silly the characters and situations became, Miyazaki treated every moment with careful consideration and execution. Characters were irreverent but also dedicated to their emotional journeys. It was unflinchingly honest but didn’t stoop to exhibitionism to be so. The comedy was precise even when completely chaotic. The tone was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Then, I saw Princess Mononoke.

Around this time, I had also been discovering Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Bergman, and Lynch. My mind starved for enrichment. In that movie theatre, there by myself, when the tentacled boar chased down our hero and infected his arm, I had no idea what to expect next. What Miyazaki did was take a genre that, to me, had only been a child’s world – fantasy – and turned it into a spiritual journey dealing with issues that the greats had dealt with through strictly human drama. These forest spirits and gods were fighting against the revolution of industry. This was the death of the spiritual in a movie with a princess of the woods. This was beautiful.

The idea of cartoons being something only for kids disappeared to me. Over the next few years, I’d watch many more Miyazaki works with an unquenchable fervor. I saw Spirited Away immediately, Nausicaa, Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Ponyo, The Wind Rises, and of course, once again The Castle of Cagliostro, etc. With each film, I fell more and more in love with Miyazaki.

I want to thank Miyazaki for showing me that those things I loved as a kid could grow with me and speak to the ideas and conflicts that I faced as an adult. That flights of fantasy and fairy tale could be made with the same delicate eye of a great filmmaker. That those passions I had as a pre-pubescent youth could encapsulate humanity and its experiences. I want to thank Miyazaki for teaching me that I didn’t have to give up my childhood, that I could take it along with me and never have to feel guilty about it. And through it, I could continue to learn more about myself and the world around me.


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