Friday, 16 August 2013

Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli and War

If you are an avid Studio Ghibli watcher, you know that many of Hayao Miyazaki's films incorporate some of the toughest themes to be covered by animated films. Studio Ghibli doesn't just do coming-of-age stories (Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro), or romance based stories (Only Yesterday, Whisper of the Heart) they also do fantastical moral stories (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle). But the biggest theme Studio Ghibli covers is the theme of the morality of war and violence (or lack thereof). From Miyazaki's pre-Studio Ghibli days, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, to his most noted, Princess Mononoke, and even his most recent, The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki chooses to highlight humanity in the midst of violent turmoil, and war. But the reasons the studio chooses to do so can be more striking than the films themselves.

Miyazaki grew up in post-WWII Japan, as did many of his colleagues. His early childhood was littered with repercussions from the war; he and his family lived and went to school as refugees outside of BunkyōTokyo where they lived originally. During the war, his father Katsuji Miyazaki ran an airplane parts manufacturing company (owned by Hayao's uncle), which also produced parts for the A6M Zero fighter planes we see in The Wind Rises. It is no doubt that this is where Hayao became enthralled with planes and flying, something we see often in many of Studio Ghibli's films.

As Japan began moving forward from WWII, adopting a more pacifist approach to foreign disputes which included outlawing war (Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution), and dismantling their armed forces, Miyazaki began learning animation and storytelling, eventually forming his own footprint in the animation world. And since then, Miyazaki has not been shy when discussing his feelings about war in general, or, even more recently, Japan's discussion to amend Article 9 of their Constitution which would allow for Japan to once again begin building an army capable of offensive attacks, not just defensive.

In fact, when Studio Ghibli was honored for the first time by the Oscars in 2003 for Best Animated Picture, Miyazaki decided not to attend in order to protest the U.S. involvement in the Iraq war. Many years later he made this statement:
"The reason I wasn't here for the Academy Award was because I didn't want to visit a country that was bombing Iraq. At the time, my producer shut me up and did not allow me to say that, but I don’t see him around today. By the way, my producer also shared in that feeling." (via L.A. Times)
It should also be noted that Miyazaki only broke his 6 year U.S. boycott in 2009 in order to attend Comic-Con after forming a strong relationship with Pixar's John Lasseter who was producing the English adaptation of Ponyo.

So why should it be surprising that when Japanese nationalists recently began to adamantly push for amending Article 9, Miyazaki would speak against their considerations? Miyazaki went so far as to publish and distribute a booklet (in Japanese only) which outlines current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's intentions, and further makes clear that he thinks "that this is something that should never be done," (AJW) and that he "had a strong feeling in [his] childhood that [Japan] had fought a truly stupid war", regarding WWII (Digital Spy).

Now we have the recent release of The Wind Rises, which centres itself around the engineer that created the A6M Zero fighter planes. Though it has been received well (the film has held the #1 spot since it opened in Japan), Miyazaki has begun to receive backlash from those that support amending Article 9 calling him "anti-Japanese", or calling for a ban of the movie (Foreign Policy) as it appears to be somewhat of a direct reaction to the requests to amend Article 9.

And though the film will have its North American debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, we can only speculate as to its content, and why some would feel so strongly as to request a ban.

Having seen what Studio Ghibli is like while Japan is a pacifist nation, what kind of movies would the studio produce if Prime Minister Abe accomplishes his amendment and breaks over 60 years of pacifist peace? Especially after Miyazaki has stated that "it's impossible for anime alone to remain the same as before and produce fantasies" (Digital Spy)?

Could we continue to expect films from Studio Ghibli at all? Would they leave the country in order to remain morally intact? Or would Studio Ghibli simply cease to exist? Hopefully, it is not the latter... but more so, hopefully the Amendment does not pass so that we no longer have to question the fate of one of the greatest animation studios of our generation.

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